UMass travels to Philly to take on A-10’s worst ranked St. Joseph’s

By Matthew Zackman

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

For the Massachusetts’ women’s lacrosse team to finish undefeated in Atlantic 10 conference play – a feat they’ve accomplished every year since 2011 – the magic number is four. UMass will play two of those vital contests this weekend in Philadelphia when they face St. Joseph’s and La Salle before returning home for their final two games of the year.

On Friday, the Minutewomen will face the Hawks, a team that has yet to win an A-10 conference game.

Despite struggling through a tough season, St. Joseph’s (5-8, 0-5 A-10) has one of most lethal offensive players in the league in their lineup. Kelly Phelan ranks fourth in the league for goals per game as well as third in the league for points per game and shots per game.

Sarah Smith is another player the Minutewomen (12-1, 4-0 A-10) will be forced to focus their attention on, as she is second on the team with 30 points.

On the receiving end of Smith and Phelan’s shots will be UMass goalkeeper Rachel Vallarelli. The senior boasts the highest save percentage in the league and was recently awarded with the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference’s defensive player of the week.

On the other end of the field for the Minutewomen is sophomore midfielder Hannah Murphy, who’s been on an offensive tear lately. Scoring at least four goals in each of her last three games, Murphy was also honored by the ECAC, as their offensive player of the week.

While the matchup is between the first and last place teams in the A-10, UMass coach Angela McMahon is not taking the contest for granted.

“This game is another great opportunity for us to improve. They will be a tough team, and playing at home with home field advantage allows them to be revitalized and gives them new energy,” McMahon said.

McMahon expects her team’s defense to have no issues in slowing down Phelan.

“It’s making sure we are all on the same page, that we are all backing each other up and playing together as a unit because when they do that, they are pretty tough to beat,” McMahon said.

In most cases, teams will rest their starters against lower level competition in order to prevent injury and give their players rest before major matches. In the Minutewomen’s case, the frontrunners to win the A-10 championship with hopes of receiving a bid for the NCAA tournament, McMahon has no intention of resting her starting squad.

“Our game plan is to go out and play the best we possibly can, no matter who is on the field. That’s our mentality going into it. We want to get off to a great start … and if we are able to do that early on, it puts us in a great position to get everyone some playing time,” McMahon said.

For just the second time this year, UMass will play two games in one weekend. After their Friday matchup with the Hawks, the Minutewomen will remain in Philadelphia and face La Salle Sunday to finish the road trip.

“Down the road when it comes to the A-10 tournament and hopefully beyond that, we are going to be looking at two games in a weekend and we really need to test ourselves now by playing a Friday and Sunday schedule so we are prepared for later on,” McMahon said.

Opening faceoff against St. Joseph’s is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Philadelphia on Friday night.

Matthew Zackman can be reached at [email protected]