McMahon enters second season at helm of women’s lacrosse

By Jeffrey Okerman

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Evan Sahagian/Collegian

The Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team was devastated last season when it dropped its first-round NCAA tournament game to No. 5 Loyola, 14-7, after breezing through the Atlantic 10. This time around, UMass coach Angela McMahon hopes to translate that learning experience into confidence, and wins.

“We just want to do better every year,” said McMahon. “Last year, playing Loyola in the first round, I think the girls were a little intimidated or nervous. [They were] just kind of unsure of themselves going into the game and then after…they realized they were right there with [Loyola].”

Before getting another crack at the national tournament, the Minutewomen will have to play their way through the A-10. UMass is predicted to win the A-10 again this season, voted the preseason favorite unanimously in the coaching poll.

“We can be a top team if we play together, and we’re confident,” said McMahon. “We’re trying to focus in on translating [that confidence] over to this year, and have them stay confident, and when they do that I think that anything is possible, We could do anything.”

UMass will be tested early and often given its traditionally tough schedule. This season, the squad has the luxury of playing its first five games at home on the familiar turf of McGuirk Stadium.

Holy Cross will make the trip to Amherst for the season-opener; then Boston University, Marist, New Hampshire and Sacred Heart will follow. McMahon acknowledges, and welcomes, the challenge the opening slate brings.

“Holy Cross is always a tough game every single year and hopefully we do the little things,” said McMahon. “[The non-conference opponents] are pretty intense for us, and the girls really get pumped to play UNH, Albany, and BU. It should be a good test, playing a lot of great opponents.”

Despite its comfortable start, McMahon is more concerned with the slew of away games that follow – matchups against defending national champion Northwestern and NCAA quarterfinalist Albany.

“Albany had a fantastic season last year, losing only one game and that was the NCAA tournament,” said McMahon. “But you have to look at the Northwestern game. It will be a key game for us, really seeing how we match up with the best team in the country.”

The game against Northwestern won’t be so much a test for the Minutewomen on the field as it will be for McMahon on the sideline.

She and associate head coach Sarah Albrecht each attended Northwestern and helped build the program from the ground up. The opportunity to coach against the program holds special sentimental value for both of them.

“We both played there, and we’re returning to our alma mater,” said McMahon. “It’s going to be pretty exciting.”

“For the players, again, I think they get pretty fired up to play Northwestern,” added McMahon. “We did a better job against them last year than we did in the past, and I think if we can continue to chip away at them then it should be a pretty challenging game, and it should be a good test for us. That NCAA atmosphere against the defending national champions should build confidence for us going forward.”

UMass has been improving in non-conference play over the last two years. In 2010, the Minutewomen finished 3-6 outside of the A-10, but a season ago they improved to 7-2 in that same category, only falling to No. 2 Northeastern, and undefeated Albany.

Over the past three seasons, the Minutewomen have been in control when it comes to their A-10 matches. UMass posted a 6-1 record in 2009, and in 2011 it didn’t drop a single game, winning seven matches on the way to three consecutive A-10 titles.

McMahon pointed out the clash with Richmond on the road, as a particularly tough A-10 team to watch out for.

“I think our biggest rival is always Richmond,” said McMahon. “It seems like it’s been that way every year. We played them in the A-10 championship this past season, and they gave us a run for our money. I have no doubt that they’ll be pretty fired up, and it will be alike for us.”

During its three-peat run, UMass has won all five contests against the Spiders, including the past two years in the A-10 championship.

Even though the Minutewomen are expected to roll through the conference again, McMahon was quick to downplay the idea that the team was already gearing up for an A-10 tournament run.

“I think a lot of A-10 teams are improving, and every game is going to be competitive because we sort of have a target on our backs now,” said McMahon. “We just have to make sure we are doing our job to really step up, and make sure we are treating every opponent the same, because I expect a pretty competitive conference slate, and I think every game is going to be a battle.”

For now, she’s just looking forward to the season opener against Holy Cross, and hopefully setting a tone that the rest of the season will follow.

“We’re really excited to be able to open at home. Maybe we’ll get a good crowd,” said McMahon.

Jeffrey Okerman can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Okerman.