Road for fifth straight conference title begins Saturday for UMass

By Patrick Strohecker

Collegian file photo

This season could be one for the thumb for the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team.

After completing a successful non-conference schedule, the Minutewomen (8-2) open up Atlantic 10  play Saturday at La Salle in the team’s quest for their fifth straight conference title.

In past seasons, a reason for UMass’ strong conference play has stemmed directly from its success during non-conference play,which appears to be the case once again the season.

“I would say we are improving on some of the big picture things that we needed to improve on since day one,” UMass coach Angela McMahon said.  “Taking care of the ball, getting better opportunities on attack, limiting our opponents shots and I think you see a steady increase in those specific categories.”

Those aspects of the game proved worrisome for the Minutewomen heading into the season, but have improved considerably over the course of the first 10 games.

“How that translates into us now, I think our shots per game has been increasing, making our goals per game increase,” McMahon said. “The girls are doing a good job of staying focused on those things and making sure that in practice, those are the things we’re really working on.”

During the Minutewomen’s run of four straight A-10 conference titles, they have amassed a dominating 33-3 record against A-10 opponents, never losing more than two games within the conference in a season. In the past two seasons, UMass has a perfect 18-0 record.

With conference triumph running deep within the program, it comes as no surprise that the Minutewomen enter this year’s conference schedule once again picked as the preseason favorites to defend their crown and expect to have a target on their backs.

“Absolutely, no question,” McMahon said. “We saw last year when we had two of our conference games go into overtime. I expect a lot of teams coming in confident, feeling good, going out there and giving it their best games. We need to do our job and make sure we’re ready for that.”

While UMass has run the table the past two seasons in conference play, it has not come easy all the time. The Minutewomen were forced into overtime twice against Richmond and Duquesne last season, showing that the conference is not as much of a runaway as one would think.

With success comes pressure to live up to the lofty expectations, something that the UMass players feel every day.

“It comes with being a player at UMass, that you want to continue that tradition and represent your team well,” McMahon said.

In order for the Minutewomen’s reign on the A-10 to continue, they will have to rely on the parts of the game that McMahon has stressed since day one.

“We try to really focus on, again going back to all those little things that have made us successful, and it goes to draws, ground balls, hustling all over the field, playing good team defense and having everyone being a threat on offense and being dynamic,” McMahon said. “If we do those things well and continue to improve through each and every game, we’ll put ourselves in good position.”

UMass kicks off conference play on Saturday at La Salle. Opening faceoff is scheduled for an 11 a.m. start time.

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.