UMass looks for significant non-conference victory

By Dan Gigliotti

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Success in Atlantic 10 play is not foreign to coach Angela McMahon and the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team, but the next week could blaze a path that has evaded the Minutewomen to date.

UMass (2-0) embarks on a three-game non-conference road trip this afternoon, its longest of the season. Beginning with No. 18 Boston University at 3 p.m., followed by Siena on Saturday and New Hampshire on March 2, the Minutewomen are out to prove something – that they deserve to be discussed as one of the top college lacrosse programs in the nation.

“It’s a tough test, but it’s a great test for us,” McMahon said. “Not only to prove to ourselves, but prove to everyone else that we deserve to be in the top 20, as well.”

If back-to-back conference titles are not evidence enough of Atlantic 10 success, UMass is 50-29 (.633 percent) all-time with the second-most regular season wins in conference history (Temple, 62).

The consistent success of the Minutewomen in conference play is what makes their non-conference record such an anomaly. UMass has won or finished second in the A-10 tournament in six of the last 12 seasons since 1999. In at least as many seasons (UMass media relations provide yearly results through 1999 only), they have failed to post a winning non-conference record (41-74, .366 win percentage).

UMass had two seasons in that span in which it finished .500. The remaining 10 seasons represented the struggle that the program has had in being considered one of the top teams in the nation.

“One of the biggest things in our non-conference schedule is proving that we should be one of the top teams in the Northeast,” McMahon said. “In order to prove that, we have to play everyone around here and beat everyone around here. That’s kind of our mentality and our goal right now is to really prove that we belong as one of the top teams in the area.”

The Minutewomen finished 5-5 in 2007, McMahon’s last season as an assistant coach. Since then, UMass is 10-20 outside of the A-10, including a five-game losing streak in 2008, a 23-6 drubbing against Northwestern to end the 2009 season and consecutive losses to No. 1 Maryland (14-4) and No. 15 Stanford (15-12) in vying for an NCAA tournament berth to conclude 2010.

Back-to-back victories to begin this season are an encouraging sign for the Minutewomen. A 12-10 victory on the road against Holy Cross in overtime last Wednesday suggests that the UMass players have the mental fortitude to win a close non-conference game on the road. It’s dismantling of Vermont, 17-9, in Saturday’s home opener is also a welcoming sign for McMahon, who is now 2-0 as head coach of the Maroon and White.

Still, both opponents were picked to finish fifth in their respective conferences (Holy Cross, Patriot League; Vermont, America East) and the Minutewomen entered last weekend’s contest winning 10 of their 12 total meetings with the Catamounts.

On the other hand, the Terriers represent the type of opponent that UMass is striving to be – nationally ranked.

“That’s been a goal of ours, to be one of the top programs and sort of take that next step as a program and hopefully break the top 20,” McMahon said. “If ever there’s an opportunity to do it, tomorrow is it.”

The Minutewomen have not beaten BU since 2007, when they won 13-11 at Nickerson Field. They are 10-8 overall against the Terriers, including a 10-8 loss on Feb. 24, 2010 when they were ranked No. 10 nationally.

National recognition is enough to light a fire under UMass and yet the rivalry that comes with playing an in-state opponent adds additional fuel to the figurative flames.

“When you face similar teams as you, you kind of have a chip on your shoulder, where you really want to prove that you’re better than them,” McMahon said.

Out of the 27 players on the roster, 20 Minutewomen are from Massachusetts, New York or New Hampshire. Many of the players carry a personal attachment to in-state competition while playing against former high-school teammates.

The styles of play between Northeast opponents induce a more competitive atmosphere, one that McMahon characterizes with grittiness, hustle and a “blue-collar mentality.”

With elite status in the works, UMass will carry a workman’s mentality into Boston tomorrow.

“I think we can really beat anybody, if we’re playing as a unit and playing well together,” McMahon said.

Dan Gigliotti can be reached at [email protected]