Minutewomen acquire invaluable late-game experience

By Jay Asser

Experience in a late-game situation isn’t something that can be acquired or learned in practice. It’s gained from playing in the final minutes of a close contest.

That’s just what the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team obtained in its weekend of play against Atlantic 10 opponents Saint Joseph’s and La Salle.

With their win on Friday over the Hawks, the Minutewomen (8-8, 5-2 A-10) earned a berth in the A-10 tournament. What UMass earned over the weekend which was just as significant though, was the experience of playing in tight situations at the end of games.

The Minutewomen played their first overtime contest and won their only closely-contest game of the season. Besides the victory against Saint Joseph’s, UMass was 0-4 in contests decided by two goals or less this spring.

“We had a lot of one or two goal games in the beginning of the season that we came up on the short end,” UMass coach Alexis Venechanos said. “Coming out on top in a close game like this shows our mentality and belief that we can win.”

Those losses served a purpose, however, and gave the Minutewomen an opportunity to learn from their failures. Heading into the A-10 tournament, Venechanos was glad her team received another chance to prove itself down the stretch of a game.

“Having that experience in close games, we were hoping for an opportunity like this,” Venechanos said. “We practice these situations and you hope you can execute at the end in close games.”

Senior Day

The last game of the regular season was also Senior Day for UMass as it played La Salle in the final contest at McGuirk Stadium on Sunday.

Though the Minutewomen are a young team assembled mostly of underclassmen, three seniors have been important factors to the success of UMass.

On the offensive side of the field, seniors Merritt Cosgrove and Stephanie Hopkins have helped the Minutewomen attack. Cosgrove has started all 16 games this season and leads UMass with 39 draw controls. Cosgrove is also in the top five on her team in goals scored (19) and total points (22) amassed.

After playing in all 18 games last season, Hopkins saw action in nine games this year but still managed to score five goals. Her percentage on free position shots was tops on the team as Hopkins scored on all three of her chances.

“Stephanie [Hopkins] and Merritt [Cosgrove] have been here for four years and we kind of came in together,” Venechanos said. “Their freshman year was my first year and we’ve been through the highs and lows of the last four years and building the program to where it is now. They play with a lot of passion for UMass lacrosse and it shows.”

In the cage, senior Leslie Barber has served as a veteran mentor to goalkeepers Katie Florence and Christina Fey.

The Andover native walked on during the spring of her junior year in 2009 and played in three games. Barber posted a 12.04 goals against average and a .400 save percentage in her time on the field for the Minutewomen.

Despite not playing this season, Venechanos explained Barber’s value as a leader on the team.

“Leslie [Barber] joined us almost two years ago and she inspires a lot of our players, is the ultimate team player, and is a very caring teammate,” said Venechanos.

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected]