Lyons quickly becoming star for A-10 Champion UMass

PHILADELPHIAMassachusetts women’s lacrosse coach Alexis Venechanos describes attacker Jackie Lyons with one word: warrior.

It’s a fitting description for a player who not only plays the part, but looks the part. Wearing full black war paint on both sides of her face, she is constantly charging into the center of the field, determined to score ‘- no matter what.

Sticks flew, cross checks were a constant and the idea of women’s lacrosse being a non-contact sport was mocked to the point of absurdity. Try as try might, Saint Joseph’s simply couldn’t stop her as she tallied five goals and three assists in UMass’ 15-14 win in the Atlantic 10 Championship Game Sunday afternoon, including the championship-winning goal with 8.9 seconds left in overtime.

Lyons was voted the A-10 Tournament’s Most Valuable Player for both her effort in the title game and her two-goal, three-assist day against George Washington on Friday in the semifinals.

‘She has something you can’t coach,’ Venechanos said after Sunday’s title game victory. ‘She has that killer instinct, that drive and she wills the ball in.’

What separates a good player from a great one is wanting the ball and delivering in crunch time. Lyons did that this weekend. First, she scored the game-tying goal in regulation with about three minutes left to tie the game at 14-14. Saint Joseph‘s led 10-3 at one point in the first half.

Both teams fought to a stalemate until UMass forced a turnover with 25 seconds remaining in the second overtime period.

The Minutewomen quickly pushed the ball up field, and found Lyons, who raced to the goal, shoulders down, legs charging to get the winning goal. With no other choice, an SJU defender fouled her with 8.9 seconds left in overtime giving her a free-position shot.

Her teammates had a feeling the game was about to end.

‘I was like ‘she’s got this.’ There’s no way she’s going to miss ‘- this girl makes them everyday in practice so she’s going to make it in the game,’ attacker Stephanie Hopkins said.

Lyons herself wasn’t quite so sure.

‘I was thinking how I kept missing them all game and I knew I had to put this one away,’ Lyons said.

When she buried the shot, her teammates erupted off the bench in celebration.

‘I knew it, I knew it. I still prayed, but I knew [her shot] was going in,’ senior attacker Meghan Reddy said.

The Minutewomen are now reaping the rewards of playing Lyons every minute in her freshman season. She had a productive rookie year, notching nine goals and four assists, while being named to the A-10 All Rookie Team.

But her production has skyrocketed in her sophomore year. Lyons has scored 44 goals to go along with 26 assists to lead her team in scoring. She is considered one of the best players in the conference and, in Venechanos’ opinion, one of the top attackers in the entire country.

Venechanos mentioned that one of Lyons’ best attributes is her big-game experience. The coach did not even bother to give Lyons a pep talk before her crucial shot.

‘She knows [what to do], she’s a big-time player, she’s been in those situations since high school,’ Venechanos said. ‘She’s been playing big games her whole life. I’m never worried that she’s ready to play; she comes to play every single practice, every single day. This is another day in the life for her.’

Her teammates had a similar sentiment.

‘Jackie Lyons, man, she’s just an awesome
player. She stepped up as a sophomore and she does what ever she is told to do,’ Hopkins said. ‘No matter the time, no matter how hard we need her to play, she does it.’

As intimidating as she is on the field, she is just as modest off it, deflecting all praise sent her way towards her teammates.

‘It’s nice, but I can’t do any of it without my team members. They are always there for me,’ Lyons said when asked how it felt to be named the A-10 Tournament MVP.

A championship winner in just her second season, Lyons has two more years to play like a warrior. For the rest of the Atlantic 10, that’s a scary thought.

Scott Feldman can be reached at [email protected]