Sports round-up

By Collegian sports staff

TOP 10 STORYLINES

Men’s lacrosse program’s comeback season ‘- A 7-7 record in 2007 after making the national championship game in 2006, eight players getting kicked off the team before 2008, a 5-9 finish in 2008 ‘- and then a resurgent 2009 season that saw the men’s lacrosse program return to the NCAA Tournament and national prominence.

Baseball program rumors/skiing cut ‘- For a while it seemed like the baseball program would be cut due to a budget deficit at UMass. Next think you know, the men’s and women’s skiing programs are cut instead.

Derek Kellogg’s first year as UMass coach ‘- Travis Ford bolted for Oklahoma State. Enter UMass’ own, Derek Kellogg.

They teased fans with wins over Kansas and some of the elite teams in the A-10, but several last-second losses and defeats to teams like Jacksonville State and Toledo left everyone scratching their heads in a disappointing 12-18 season.

Football happenings ‘- A preseason No. 3 ranking resulted in a 7-5 record and a rare absence from the postseason. Then-coach Don Brown resigns to take the defensive coordinator position at Maryland and Kevin Morris, the quarterbacks coach, is elevated to the top job at UMass.

Women’s lacrosse recovers from adversity ‘- After several players, including 2008 star Kaytlin McCormick quit the team after last season, 2009 looked as though it would be a down season with so many newcomers.

But it was not so, as UMass won the Atlantic 10 Tournament in dramatic fashion and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1984.

Field hockey team rises to prominence ‘- UMass had a good year in 2007 under first-year coach Justine Sowry, but the Minutewomen took it to another level this season. With senior leaders like Erin Parker, Katelyn Orlando and Mary Shea, UMass won the NCAA play-in game and then lost a heartbreaker, 3-2, to Syracuse. With Sowry and star freshman goalkeeper Alesha Widdall in net for the next three years, this team will be among the nation’s elite for a while.

Tony Gaffney explodes from nowhere ‘- 2007-08 stats: 3.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.69 BPG in 20 minutes per night. And now a year later he has a chance to make the NBA. Amazing.

Atlantic 10 Tournament blues continue ‘- For the seventh season in a row, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team lost in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Since then, all 13 teams in the conference have won at least won game.

Brandice Balschmiter rewrites record books ‘- She got her 1,000th career strikeout. She set a school record with 19 strikeouts in one game. She broke the school-record for most career wins. The list goes on and on for perhaps the best pitcher in UMass softball history.

Matt Goldstein-Whitney Mollica ‘- If you have the guts to get on one knee and propose to your girlfriend at the place of your employment and in front of 4,621 people ‘- you make this list. It’s that simple. Congratulations to Matt (who does the PA at hockey games) and to Whitney, who has had a terrific four-year career as the third baseman on the softball team.

TOP 5 MOMENTS

Lowe’s got ice water in his veins ‘- With only two seconds remaining in a 69-68 game at St. Joseph‘s, Chris Lowe stepped to the line with a chance to give the Minutemen the lead. With a capacity crowd at the Palestra going wild, making every effort to distract Lowe, the senior calmly sank both shots, leading UMass to a 70-69 win.

It was a key win for the Minutemen who, at the time, were still fighting for a spot in the A-10 tournament.‘ ‘ ‘ ‘

Gaffney’s tip turns the tables ‘- Despite some early season collapses late for the Minutemen, UMass coach Derek Kellogg’s team was able to pull off some last-minute heroics.

During the waning seconds of UMass’ game against Boston College, Gaffney supplied a miracle tip-in off a missed foul shot to send the game into overtime. The Minutemen ultimately lost the game, but Gaffney’s play kept the game alive for UMass.‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘

The goal that wasn’t ‘- During the second overtime period of UMass’ NCAA match against Harvard, freshman Chris Roswess fired a shot toward a crowd at the front of the net where a Minuteman barely tipped it across the line as ‘hellip; never mind.

What appeared to be the game-winning goal for UMass was not, as the referees determined that the ball didn’t cross the line before being kicked away by Harvard goalie Austin Harms. The implications of the non-goal were obvious as UMass went on to lose the game 1-0, ending their tournament hopes.‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘

Irwin scores with seconds left ‘- With under a minute left in Game 3 of the Hockey East tournament, it appeared that the Northeastern Huskies would close out the series. However, with 34.8 seconds remaining, it was freshman defenseman Matt Irwin that beat out Brad Theissen to tie the game 2-2.

UMass went on to lose the game in overtime, but still gave it a chance to get back into game and upset the Huskies.

Men and Women’s lax clinch in OT ‘- Clinching a postseason berth came down to the last second for both the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams.

The Minutewomen, who were tied at 14-14 in overtime in their A-10 championship match against Saint Joseph‘s, were saved through the efforts of sophomore sensation Jackie Lyons, who recorded her eighth point of the game to send UMass to the NCAA tournament.

For the Minutemen, it was senior Tim Balise that extended the season. Tied at 10-10 in overtime against Rutgers, the Minutemen were the beneficiaries of a bounce shot from Balise that found the back of the net and gave UMass the ECAC title and a trip to the tournament.

TOP 5 MALE ATHLETES

James Marcou ‘- It’s safe to say that without the sophomores scoring touch and knack for clutch performances, the Massachusetts hockey team wouldn’t have made it to the Hockey East Tournament this season.

Marcou led the Minutemen with 15 goals and 32 assists ‘- good for 12th in the nation with 47 points. He was one of the few Minutemen that continued to score while the rest suffered from cold streaks, which undoubtedly shortened UMass’ season and hurt its tournament ranking. Fortunately for the Mass Attack, Marcou still has a couple of more seasons in him.

Tony Gaffney ‘- The senior was the backbone of the Massachusetts basketball team. When the Minutemen found itself in trouble Gaffney was there to bail them out. Gaffney averaged a double-double while leading UMass in playing time, with almost 34 minutes per game.

A true definition of a senior leader, Gaffney was the voice of motivation and optimism at times when the season looked all but lost. His last-second lay-up against Boston College on Dec. 6 pretty much summed the season for the 6-8, 200-pounder ‘- he was always there when his team needed him.

Doc Schneider ‘- We still don’t know how he got his nickname, but that’s all right, he gave us enough to talk about in his four years here. Schneider started in all 16 of UMass’ games in his final season as goalkeeper. The five-time ECAC Defensive Player of the Week led the conference in save percentage (.653) and goals-against average (7.43).

The senior continued to earn praise even after defeats. Princeton coach Bill Tierney hailed Schneider as one of the best goalies in the country even after scoring in double fig
ures. Sounds pretty good to me.

Zack Simmons ‘- To start off, being in FIFA ’09 has to be one of the coolest achievements ever as well as one of the best pickup lines. Trust me, I’ve played against him virtually, he’s not that bad. But beside that, back-up goalkeeper Shane Curran-Hays has a lot to live up to.

There isn’t much to say about Simmons that hasn’t been said, however. The senior started all 21 games for the Minutemen posting a .84 GAA and stopping 84 shots on the season. Oh, and in the classroom, Simmons has nearly a 4.0 GPA and is pursuing two majors.

Jason Cook ‘- Usually your freshman year is a time to get settled, learn the program, the coach and the playing style. But for freshman Jason Cook it seemed as if he learned all of that years ago. Cook was named the Atlantic 10’s Most Outstanding Diver and finished first in 16 different races this season. He was the first diver in UMass history to compete in the NCAA Diving Championships.

There’s already a lot this young swimmer has accomplished and he has three more years to add to his r’eacute;sum’eacute;.

TOP 5 FEMALE ATHLETES

Alesha Widdall ‘- The sophomore took over the reins as the Massachusetts field hockey team’s starting keeper last fall. Widdall started in 18 of UMass’ 22 games posting a 1.06 GAA and a .792 save percentage. She already has seven shutouts to her credit and after leading UMass to the NCAA Tournament and nearly upsetting Syracuse in the first round the Minutemen will look to go deeper in the postseason next year.

Katelyn Orlando ‘- Another big reason as to why the Minutewomen advanced to the NCAA tournament. The senior was named the A-10 Offensive Player of the Year and the only senior forward on the team, so the leadership she provided was vital. Orlando‘s play really brightened late on in the year as UMass took on conference rivals.

She led the Minutewomen in goals, with 15, and also led the team with 31 points.

Brandice Balschmiter ‘- It seems like every week that Balschmiter seems to break a UMass record or reach another milestone. The senior now owns UMass’ all-time win record, strikeout record and has thrown more than one no-hitter this year ‘- all of this done pretty much effortlessly.

Don’t tell her that, though. Balschmiter is never satisfied with how she pitches and if she feels like her outing was ‘OK’ then she’ll just focus her attention on her team’s win instead of how she pitched that day. A-10 teams have to be pleased she’s graduating.

Jackie Lyons ‘- Lyons led the Massachusetts lacrosse team in goals (44) and assists (27) as a sophomore. She was named First Team All-A-10 and A-10 Tournament MVP after scoring a combined 13 points in UMass’ two victories. Lyons’ best game, arguably the most important game of the season, saw her score eight points (five goals, three assists) in overtime in UMass’ A-10 Championship win over Saint Joe’s.

Carly Normandin/Samantha Salato ‘- It’s hard to find faults or weaknesses within the Massachusetts softball team. If Normandin and Salato are anything they are buoys that keep the Minutewomen afloat offensively (so to speak). The two lead UMass in every offensive category and provide Balschmiter with plenty of run support. The two have a combined 81 RBIs or 34 percent of the team’s and 105 hits or 29 percent of the team’s.

Together, along with Balschmiter, the three could end up carrying the Minutewomen a long way in the NCAA Tournament.

TEAMS OF THE YEAR

Field hockey ‘- If the 2008 Massachusetts field hockey team had one weakness, it was that it struggled against teams ranked in the Top 5 in the nation.

Good problem to have.

Outside of an early season loss
to a ‘pitiful’ No. 13 Boston College team and a meaningless, non-conference loss to Providence, the team’s three losses came against the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 5-ranked teams in the country.

The truth of the matter is, UMass coach Justine Sowry won the games they were supposed to while still toppling two ranked opponents during the regular season en route to a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

Men’s Lacrosse ‘- The UMass men’s lacrosse team had a rockier road in returning to the NCAA tournament.

After a preseason incident that resulted in the suspension of eight players, the team completely rebounded, overcoming the criticism to win the ECAC title and reach the NCAA tournament.

Led by goalkeeper Doc Schneider and attack Jim Connolly, the Minutemen were able to battle their way through their tough conference schedule, including devastating losses to Georgetown and Syracuse, and cap off a spectacular season in the face of adversity.

COACHES OF THE YEAR

Alexis Venechanos ‘- When a team loses its top two scorers, its senior goalkeeper and has to integrate 14 freshmen and a walk-on junior onto a roster of 24 players, it’s supposed to be a rebuilding year.

Only no one told that to Venechanos.

Before the season she declared that her goal was to make the NCAA tournament; something that hadn’t been accomplished since 1984.

It seemed unlikely, especially after the Minutewomen lost their first three games and carried a 3-6 record heading into conference play.

But that record was misleading, Venechanos intentionally scheduled one of the hardest schedules in the country facing five teams ranked in the top 15, reasoning that by the time conference play started, her players would be prepared for anything.

She was right.

The team went 8-1 against A-10 foes, including a 13-12 win over their nemesis Richmond, a 16-4 rout of defending Atlantic 10 champion Temple and a 15-14 overtime win in the A-10 Championship game where the team had to overcome a 10-3 deficit in 90 degree heat.

That championship win defined the type of team Venechanos built. A team prepared to overcome any challenge, and always believe victory was possible ‘- no matter how unlikely it may seem.

Greg Cannella ‘- Recently, there was a column in The Collegian about how Cannella, the coach of the men’s lacrosse team, is the ultimate leader for a program. Read that column and you’ll know why he won our men’s coach of the year.

Cannella is the epitome of a class act and does things the right way. That’s why the off-campus incident involving eight players before the 2008 season was such a shock. Cannella and the Minutemen overcame that and had a tremendous 2009 season, culminating in the ECAC championship and NCAA Tournament appearance. Cannella reinstated two of the suspended players, reunited the team and restored the image of the men’s lacrosse team ‘- all while bringing back the program into national prominence. Not bad.

TOP 10 GAMES

Men’s lacrosse at Rutgers ‘- So much on the line. A win gives the Minutemen the ECAC championship and the automatic qualifier in the NCAA Tournament. A loss means the resurgent season ends. Want added pressure? How about if the first goal in overtime wins the whole thing?

After Rutgers won the faceoff they stormed down the field looking for the game-winner. Doc Schneider saved it and moments later Tim Balise hit a turnaround bounce shot as the Minutemen celebrated the 11-10 victory.

Women’s lacrosse vs. Saint Joseph‘s (A-10 Championship Game) ‘- The exact same situation that the men’s lacrosse team was in against Rutgers. And exact same result.

The Minutewomen trailed by as
many as seven goals to the underdog