Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Rachel Valarelli continues to lead strong defensive play for No. 10 UMass women’s lacrosse

Following two wins in the past week, the No. 10 Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team hasn’t allowed any of its opponents to reach double figures in scoring.

Leading this “strong cohesive” defensive unit, according to coach Angela McMahon, is junior goalkeeper Rachel Vallarelli who’s started in net and has earned the win in all nine games this season for the Minutewomen.

On Saturday, in UMass’ game against Southern California, Vallarelli recorded a season-high eight saves in the Minutewomen’s 14-6 victory. Following this performance, Vallarelli was named the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Week and now has the 26th highest save percentage in the nation at .473.

“(Vallarelli) in cage has really grown into herself in terms of improving and in becoming more of a leader in communicating more,” McMahon said. “I think her strong play really just energizes and creates momentum for the rest of the team.”

Vallarelli’s believes that her confidence this season has been the major difference in her improved play.

“I feel like I’ve taken each opportunity and experience that I’ve seen over the previous years and used it to just have fun and play in the moment,” she said. “I don’t worry about how many saves I make anymore. I just focus on doing my job and doing whatever my team needs me to do to win.”

McMahon added that this poise has allowed the rest of the team to be more aggressive on both ends of the field.

“If we happen to foul or if there is some sort of mistake made, to have her have the confidence back there to make the stop just allows us to continue to take those risks,” McMahon said.

This was apparent on Saturday, according to McMahon, as many of Vallarelli’s saves came when the Trojans had opportunities to score from within the eight-meter arc.

“I thought that USC really came out strong and that our team was really ready for it,” Vallarelli said. “They had some really great shots.”

UMass’ next test will be on Tuesday, when No. 7 Northwestern comes to McGuirk Stadium for a 7 p.m. game. The Wildcats handed the Minutewomen a season-opening loss last year in their previous head-to-head matchup.

In the 16-4 loss on Feb. 8, 2013, Vallarelli allowed all 16 goals and made 10 saves against the Wildcats, the No. 1 ranked team in the country at the time.

According to McMahon, Vallarelli and the UMass defensive unit “played about 20 minutes of really good defense.”  She added that Tuesday’s battle will rely on whether the team can show this success over a whole 60 minutes of play.

Heading into Tuesday’s matchup between the two top-10 nationally ranked teams, Vallarelli said that last year’s experience has helped her in preparation for this year’s attempt at revenge.

“We’ve been looking forward to this game all season and it’s personally one of my favorite (matchups),” Vallarelli said. “I love the competition and I thrive off of it.”

McMahon said that this confidence and composure against high-caliber offensive teams such as Northwestern is going to help Vallarelli when the Minutewomen begin conference play and when the Atlantic 10 Tournament begins in early May.

“She’s going to have ice in her veins at that point because she’s already been through all of these big-time situations,” McMahon said.

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and can be followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.

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