Over the last four seasons, the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team has been nearly unbeatable in conference play, thanks in large part to its early non-conference schedules.
“With having all of our non-conference games first, I think that if we really learn from every single game, continue to grow and continue to improve, then I think that as we go along then it’s really going to help shape our conference season,” Minutewomen coach Angela McMahon said.
During UMass’ run of four-straight Atlantic 10 Conference titles, it has amassed a dominating 33-3 record against conference opponents, never losing more than two games to A-10 foes in a season. In the past two years, UMass has a perfect 18-0 mark, but were pushed to overtime twice last season.
“I wouldn’t use the word domination because we had two overtime games last year,” McMahon said. “So, we were literally seconds or one play away from losing two conference games last year that could have gone the other way.”
Though the Minutewomen suffered two scares last season against Richmond and Duquesne, their average margin of victory last season was nine goals, which jumped slightly to 9.5 in the A-10 tournament. UMass also owned the top offense in the conference last season, averaging 16.9 goals per game, while surrendering 7.7 on the defensive side.
While the quest for a fifth-straight A-10 conference title comes with its own pressure, that the Minutewomen are hosting this year’s conference tournament will certainly add to the stress.
“It’s definitely a little bit more of a pressure,” junior Katie Ferris said. “But, at the same time, we’re really excited that it is here at home and we don’t have to travel.”
McMahon added that the team needs to take a sense of pride in hosting the tournament and make sure it is still playing when the tournament rolls around.
Despite the added pressure, UMass heads into the season as the overwhelming favorite to capture the A-10 title, as it is the only team from the conference to be ranked by the two major polls for women’s lacrosse. In the deBeers Media poll, the Minutewomen are ranked No. 13, while in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll they sit at No. 14.
Even with the high ranking, coach McMahon knows that, come conference play, every game has its own importance and must be played with the same level of intensity.
“Going into (the conference) prepared and ready to go,” she said, “we know that every single game within the conference is critical and that we really have to step up and take care of business on our end.”
UMass will not get into its conference schedule until the 11th game of the season when it visits La Salle on March 30. The Minutewomen’s conference home opener is scheduled for April 5 against Richmond – a rematch of last year’s A-10 conference final that UMass won, 14-9.
The Minutewomen will not see rival Duquesne until April 20, also at home, which will be a rematch of last year’s 10-8 overtime thriller.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.