Women’s lacrosse is returning the bulk of its roster

By Cameron McDonough

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Check out more from the Collegian’s Lacrosse Special Issue: UMass lacrosse shy away from NCAA | McMahon enters second season at helm of women’s lacrosse | Asser: Lacrosse teams a great source of UMass pride | Scribner: Everybody loves overtime lacrosse | Off the field work translates to on-field excellence for Manny | McCormack leading by example| Collegian’s Special Issue in Print

The Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team’s quest for a fourth consecutive Atlantic 10 championship begins with a team largely resembling last year’s squad.

UMass has high expectations again this season as it has been picked to finish first in the A-10. Last season, the Minutewomen went 17-3 overall with a 7-0 conference record.

UMass was led by the play of All-American Jackie Lyons, who racked up 41 goals and 32 assists in her senior season.

Lyons certainly will be missed, but the Minutewomen roster retained five of its seven top offensive scorers, three of its top four defensive players and its goalkeeper.

“I think the good thing about our team is that we are returning the bulk of our team,” said UMass coach Angela McMahon. “We graduated three seniors last year so we have a big senior class of eight players with a lot of experience.”

Goalkeeper

Perhaps the most vital piece returning is the goalkeeper Katie Florence. She is coming off a stellar season in which she was named the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, and was also named to the All-Conference Team.

Florence recorded a career best 8.80 goals-against average last season along with a .460 save percentage. She was the key to the defensive success that made the Minutewomen the No. 1 defensive team in the A-10 for the third-straight year. The defense was ranked 10th in the entire nation after last season.

“Having [Florence] back is going to be great for our team,” said McMahon. “Having a great leader back there on defense in Katie has been vital for our team.”

Defense

One might say that the pride of UMass women’s lacrosse has been its defense over the past few years, which has been ranked number one in the A-10 for the past three years.

The Minutewomen will retain three of their top four defensive players from last year.

One of those four, Riley Perry, served as one of the defensive anchors of the team last season. She started in all 20 games and was a nightmare for opponents as she forced 17 turnovers and scooped up 32 groundballs.

Ali Houlis also was an anchor for the Minutwomen’s top-ranked defense. She also started all 20 games and led UMass with 41 groundballs and forced 25 turnovers to tie for the team lead.

Also on the defensive unit is Kelsey Palmer, who started every game, picked up 20 groundballs and tied Perry with 17 turnovers forced.

“Having that core nucleus of our defense returning will be huge for us this season,” said McMahon. “Hopefully they will limit our opponents goals and continue to shut top teams down.”

UMass will be without the services of Nazy Kerr who graduated last year. She also posted impressive defensive numbers and will be a void the Minutewomen must fill. McMahon said she hopes to fill the void with a younger player.

Offense

The Minutewomen will see three attackers from last year’s squad return, including the 2011 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, Katie Ferris. Ferris finished last year with 72 points, 56 of which were goals to lead the team.

The other two returning attackers are Jesse O’Donnell and Nina Sarcona. O’Donnell is returning for her senior season after scoring 37 goals and 11 assists and being named the A-10 Tournament MVP, scoring eight goals and one assist to lead UMass to the tournament title.

The senior Sarcona is returning after starting all 20 games for the Minutewomen last season en route to a career-high in points along with 63 draw controls, which is the second most draw controls ever in a single season for UMass. She currently stands in a tie for eighth place on the all-time draw control list for the Minutewomen at 84.

In the midfield two returning players, Tanner Guarino and Danielle Pelletier, anchor UMass. Guarino is coming off an impressive rookie campaign in which she was the second-highest rookie goal scorer, behind Ferris, with 15 goals and was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team.

Pelletier is entering her senior year for UMass after scoring 13 goals and gathering 18 groundballs.

“We have a lot of young players and we have been working on team chemistry, but we continue to improve everyday,” said McMahon.

“The one great thing about our team though this year is that we are returning the bulk of our team,” she added. “We only graduated three seniors last year, so we have a big senior class of eight players this year that have a lot of experience. Over the past four years they have really helped turn this program around.”

Cameron McDonough can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @MDC_McDonough.