UM looks to capitalize on strong defense and home-field advantage

By Herb Scribner

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With the regular season coming to a close, and the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team at the head of the Atlantic 10 conference, the Minutewomen should have a good chance at making the A-10 tournament.

“We worked hard at the beginning of the A-10 to put us in a situation where we could control our own destiny,” UMass coach Alexis Venechanos said. “We talked about how if we win Friday, we’re in definitely. We don’t have to worry about other teams, and in the past we didn’t have that, we had to wait for a couple of teams.”

But before it can even start thinking about the tournament, UMass (7-7, 4-1 A-10) has a pair of games this weekend against Saint Joseph’s and La Salle. In order to win these two contests, the Minutewomen will be relying on their defense, home-field advantage, and overall team morale.

Defensive Triumphs

Over the entirety of the season, UMass has relied on its heavy defensive side in order to win. This will be no different against the Hawks (2-12, 0-5 A-10) and the Explorers (7-6, 3-2 A-10).

For the game against St. Joseph’s, the Minutewomen might have an easier time defending the back of the net, as the Hawks rank eighth in the conference in goals per game.

“Their attack is more emotion based,” Venechanos said. “So if it’s not one person in the spot, it’s somebody else. We’ve been working with getting comfortable with that, not being surprised when they do things, and hopefully reacting before they will.”

Coupled with that is SJU’s also last-place standing in draw controls, which UMass has always stressed as a key component to its offense.

While defending the Hawks’ offense may seem like a simple task for the defending A-10 champions, the Explorers are a different story, as they rank above the Minutewomen in goals and groundballs in the conference.

Physical play was evident in UMass’ 11-6 victory over St. Bonaventure last Saturday, as the Minutewomen committed 16 infractions and earned three yellow cards. UMass will meet its match in the game against La Salle, as the Explorers rank second in the conference in fouls per game.

The Minutewomen will also have to be careful of La Salle’s scoring ability, as it ranks two spots above the Maroon and White in the A-10 in total goals.

“We need individual stops, but as a whole, we’re going to need our defense on the same page,” Venechanos said.

Home-Field Advantage

After a four-game home stint followed by a six game road affair, UMass returned home with a victory this past Saturday as part of its concluding three-game series in Amherst.

“Coming off the road, I’m happy with 3-1,” Venechanos said. “Starting the season, you don’t know how it’s going to be.”

The Minutewomen are 4-4 at home this season, with one win coming in conference. Last season, UMass went 5-2 while playing at McGuirk Stadium, which included a victory over then ranked No. 13 Dartmouth.

Venechanos is excited to be finishing out the season in Amherst.

“We’re happy to be home,” Venechanos said. “We’re going to have to do everything we can. We know St. Joseph’s is going to be coming after us with everything they have.”

Team Morale

With the Minutewomen at the head of the A-10 conference, a sure target has formed on the back of each player that wears a UMass uniform. But these targets don’t seem to be bothering the team, according to Venechanos.

“Some of the girls are realizing [the season’s ending], some of the other girls are playing with a bit more urgency,” Venechanos said. “I think we’re getting a lot more excited towards the end of the season.”

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]