Currently on a three-game winning streak, the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team has used its defensive cohesiveness to quietly limit its opposition to less than 10 goals in three of four games this season.
Though it graduated a core of defenders, highlighted by Riley Perry and Ali Houlis, who led the team in ground balls, UMass (3-1) returned a group that left room for new faces to emerge in leadership roles.
With more than one pair of shoes to fill – as the leader on draw controls, attacker Nina Sarcona, who also graduated – UMass coach Angela McMahon said her team’s defense has shown no drop-off, remaining consistent with the Minutewomen’s usual standards.
“I think our defense is doing a great job of really limiting opponents’ opportunities,” McMahon said. “From Northwestern, where they score 16 goals against us and we kind of well apart a little bit, I think that from that game on, our defense has completely come together and just done a really god job of limiting each team since then.”
McMahon also said her squad’s ability to force low-percentage shots has directly equated to a favorable scoring margin.
Junior defender Kelsey McGovern, who has emerged as the team’s top defensive force – leading UMass in ground balls (10), draw controls (27) and forced turnovers (five) – has not gone unnoticed by McMahon, who attributes recent success to McGovern’s grit.
“She had dominating days on the draw so that obviously is going to translate into us being able to score more,” McMahon said. “I think between her and also the people around her – because some of the draws she’s able to get to herself, some is trying to direct it towards the people that are around her – both ends of those things are happening pretty well right now.”
Despite McGovern’s standout play, McMahon maintains that not having a single go-to player, as well as believing that anybody can score at any time, has contributed to defenders playing as a unit.
Rush scores seven in two games
Reliable defense has also yielded offensive success for the Minutewomen, notably in the form of junior attack Sam Rush, who scored seven goals over the last two outings.
The West Babylon, N.Y., native, described by McMahon as a great finisher who has a knack for getting herself in a position to score goals, ranks second behind junior attacker Katie Ferris in points and goals with 11 each.
Rush and Ferris front an attack that has outscored its opposition 61-42 through four games.
Although UMass has built momentum, McMahon said the Minutewomen’s confidence has to remain constant, no matter the caliber of opposing teams.
“That’s the goal,” McMahon said. “That’s what we’re trying to stress and focus on. Sometimes there’s let downs, it happens, but we’re trying to have that be less and less during the duration of the game and have more time where we’re on and being consistent.”
Peter Cappiello can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cappiello.