UMass women’s lacrosse begins season with high expectations, seeking eighth straight A-10 championship

By Thomas Johnston

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

With the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team beginning its season Friday night, expectations are high once again. The Minutewomen look to build off a 2015 campaign that saw them win their seventh straight Atlantic 10 conference championship, as well an appearance in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Now entering 2016, UMass is projected to once again win the A-10 title for the eighth consecutive season.

“We try not to focus on (being preseason favorites) at all,” Minutewomen coach Angela McMahon said. “In the back of everyone’s minds it’s a goal and something we have created as a standard for ourselves, but really we’re focused on improving and getting better everyday, every game and every opportunity we have to be together as a team.”

The bulk of UMass’ roster will look very similar to the one it boasted last season, as the Minutewomen return reigning A-10 offensive player of the year Erika Eipp, who finished with a team-high 75 points (45 goals, 30 assists) in 2015 as well as A-10 midfielder of the year Hannah Murphy (46 goals, 11 assists). In addition to returning a plethora of offensive threats, the Minutemen also bring back three of their four starters on defense in Anne Farnham, Kate Farnham and Amber Tobin.

McMahon understands how important the team’s returning leadership will be.

“We have a lot of returners, a lot of veterans, some great young players that have really stepped up and the addition of a couple transfers who will definitely make an impact on the team,” McMahon said.

“We have a lot of experience, as well as a lot of dynamic and exciting new players that I think are going to be a great balance. I’m really proud of how we’ve been working in the offseason and preseason and how we’ve improved and I think we have really started coming together as a team and unit.”

The large hole to fill will be in the net, where the team lost goalkeeper and reigning A-10 defensive player of the year Rachel Vallarelli. Vallarelli posted a 5.77 goals against per game average last year, allowing a total of 113 goals on the season.

In addition to her play on the field, McMahon noted that it was Vallarelli’s energy and leadership that will be equally missed by UMass.

“She was a fantastic leader and she was an amazing goalie who had a great career here. Now, we’re looking at each and every individual to really bring that intensity, fire, spark and I think people have stepped up and created that energy,” McMahon said.

McMahon also noted that both sophomore Aileen Kelly and freshman Sam Walters are still competing for starting job in net.

“They’ve both been doing a great job and they’re becoming leaders in their own way, even though they are just a sophomore and freshmen,” she said. “They’ve both matured the last couple months to be ready to fill that role and lead our defense.”

With the Minutewomen opening their season this Friday against Holy Cross, the Crusaders coaching staff has many ties to UMass. Holy Cross coach Amanda Belichick – daughter of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick – was an assistant for the Minutewomen in 2010. Assistant coach Katie Ferris is the Minutewomen’s all-time leader in points (330), goals (211) and assists (119), and she helped lead UMass to four straight A-10 championships from 2011 to 2014.

McMahon expressed her excitement coaching against a former assistant and player.

“I think it’s special and unique. I think it ties things in more. It’s a close rival, right down the street, and I think it’s fun having those familiar faces on the sideline,” McMahon said.

“It increases the level of competition in wanting to beat them. I know that they know our team pretty well and they’ll come in prepared and give us a game and hopefully we take care of what we need to do to be successful and play to the best of our ability and take care of business.”

Faceoff at Garber Field is set for 6:30 p.m. this Friday evening after the game was moved from Saturday due to weather forecasts.

Thomas Johnston can be reached at tjohnston