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UMass women’s lacrosse’s record-setting pace a byproduct of comradery

(Caroline O’Connor/Collegian)

New all-time records just keep coming for Massachusetts women’s lacrosse.

Last Thursday, the Minutewomen scored 25 goals in a victory over La Salle University, the most goals ever in a UMass lacrosse game. That mark broke the record of 24 set against St. Joseph’s just 11 days prior.

With a 19-5 win at St. Bonaventure over the weekend, the Minutewomen (11-3, 6-0 Atlantic 10) extended their conference winning streak to 51 games, an NCAA record that is practically untouchable. Several players have recorded career-bests or school records this season, such as Kiley Anderson’s career-high five goals last week, or Hannah Burnett’s UMass-record eight goals and 10 points against St. Joseph’s.

After starting the season 1-3, the Minutewomen have won their last 10 games and their last three by a combined margin of 35 goals. To say UMass coach Angela McMahon’s team has found its stride would be a gross understatement.

“I just think we’re connecting a lot better,” McMahon said. “We’re moving the ball better and everyone is getting involved in terms of being a threat, so I think we’re just coming together. It took us a little while, but we’re slowly building confidence and just having all these different individuals step up and perform is definitely going to help us in the long run.”

At the season’s outset, the usual sense of comfort and confidence that surrounds Minutewomen lacrosse was absent. The team, after graduating key players like Erika Eipp and the Farnham sisters, got off to a bad start against tough opponents. The only positive that came out of the season’s first month was an ugly 14-13 victory over Jacksonville University.

But on March 5, a month into the season, things changed. A hard-fought battle and sudden-death overtime victory against visiting University of Connecticut united UMass and sparked a momentum swing that now finds the Minutewomen atop the A-10 conference once again.

“I thought beating UConn was huge for us,” McMahon said. “Obviously they’re a great team, and despite where we were at that point, we were confident that we could compete with them if we just played our game.”

The Minutewomen’s play has been nothing short of dominant over their six-week undefeated stretch. Attackers are setting screens throughout the 12-meter fan, scrambling defenders and freeing up shooters with open scoring lanes. Ball movement has been strongly encouraged and emphasized in practice by McMahon and has been key to the winning streak; UMass has recorded double-digit assists in each of its last six games and average just under nine per game as a team.

McMahon’s teams have always been known for offensive firepower, which is why the equally strong play of the Minutewomen defense and goalies this season is so impressive.

Despite the graduation of several starting defenders from 2016, UMass ranks first in the conference in caused turnovers per game, with 11.85. Veterans such as Sarah Crowley and Allison Ryan have lead a very aggressive Minutewomen defense that prides itself on forcing opponents to make mistakes.

Freshman goalie Lauren Hiller has started 14 games and played less than 45 minutes in a game just twice all season. She averages 8.54 saves per game, and her .460 save percentage ranks fourth among A-10 starting goalies. Sophomore Sam Walters and junior Aileen Kelly complete a net-minding trio that has the trust of the entire team.

“Lauren has been great for us, but our other two goalies, Sam [Walters] and Aileen Kelly, have been good in their individual roles also,” McMahon said. “Everyone practices hard and does what we ask them to do during games, which is why we’ve been able to have the success that we’ve had.”

Just three games separate the Minutewomen from the playoffs with opponents Duquesne and George Washington, at a combined 4-23. However, George Mason is just a game away from clenching first place at 10-4. That contest will be a major indicator of UMass’ momentum heading into the A-10 tournament and beyond.

Henry Brechter can be reached at hbrechter@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @HBrechter.

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