Strohecker: UMass opens door to bright future this season

By Patrick Strohecker

After dropping a heartbreaking, 12-9 loss to Penn State on Sunday, ending its season, the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team must now look forward to 2014.

But before jumping ahead to next spring, it seems appropriate to take one final look back at a remarkable season for the Minutewomen.

Cade Belisle/Collegian

UMass had high expectations coming into the year, but never got ahead of itself. Those expectations were put to the test in the season’s first game against two-time defending national champions Northwestern. While the score line, a 16-4 loss, didn’t look too promising for the Minutewomen, they put that result behind them and pushed forward.

When you think about this year’s team, it’s hard to overlook the idea of consistency, a characteristic that it displayed throughout the season. A season-high 15-game winning streak propelled UMass in the national rankings, placing them in the top 10 nationally in various statistical categories.

That consistency ultimately turned into the No. 1 overall seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, a position that the Minutewomen expected to be in the entire season. As four-time defending A-10 champs, it was easy to expect the quest for a fifth-straight crown to be just like the previous four. But this one had something more to it.

UMass set the record for the most consecutive conference titles along with a number of individual accolades.
Sam Rush broke the single-season record for goals in a season with 65, breaking fellow teammate Katie Ferris’ previous mark of 58. While Rush broke Ferris’ goal record, Ferris made an even bigger mark on the program’s history.

On April 12, Ferris broke the school’s all-time scoring record, with her 227th career point. Former player Jackie Lyons held the previous mark of 226 points, but it took the junior all of 50 games as a Minutewoman to eclipse that mark.

But, at the end of it all, was maybe the team’s most rewarding first: its first NCAA Tournament win since 1984.

Over the past few seasons, UMass never had much luck in the NCAA Tournament selection draw. It always found itself summoned to the play-in game and then forced to play one of the top teams in the country in the first round. But this year was different.

With an expanded playoff field, the Minutewomen drew a favorable opponent in Connecticut in the first round. A dominant performance from start to finish gave the program its first, first round triumph in 29 years.

While the win put a nice end to a long drought, the season could have been prolonged a bit further. UMass coach Angela McMahon described the second round loss to Penn State as a “missed opportunity” and a failed attempt in “winning the weekend,” the goal UMass had in mind when it entered the Tournament.

But, while the season ended sooner than the team had anticipated, 2013 provided a bright future for the program.

The Minutewomen are only graduating four seniors – Lauren Terracciano, Cori Murray, Kelsey Palmer and Sarah Mullen – which means that next year’s squad will look nearly identical to this season’s. And aside from losing Terracciano and Murray on the offensive end, UMass is bringing back seven of its top nine scorers, so the team certainly will have the firepower and experience to repeat this year’s performance, if not do better.

If this year’s expectations for the Minutewomen were high, then the bar next season will only be higher.

Fortunately for UMass, the pieces are still there and the future is bright.

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