Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass women’s lacrosse reloads with four new transfer players to start season

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

At the University of Massachusetts, sports fandom essentially comes down to three things: football, basketball and hockey. But it is easy to forget that the most successful team at the school plays with much less fanfare than any of those three cash-cow sports. That team is the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team, which has won seven-straight Atlantic 10 championships.

UMass is anticipating another strong season heading into 2016, where it is projected to finish first in the A-10 and win its for the eighth-straight conference championship. The Minutewomen return many of its stars like Erika Eipp and Hannah Murphy, but this year they will also be competing with an influx of four new transfer student-athletes who have been added to the fold.

Hannah Burnett (Florida), Bella O’Connor (Florida), Kiley Anderson (Boston College), and Alex Flobeck (Cincinnati) all join UMass after spending previous seasons playing for other programs.

Family matters

For O’Connor, a Plymouth native, the primary reason for joining the Minutewomen was about staying close to home and closer to family.

“I’m from Massachusetts originally so this has always been home for me,” O’Connor said, “I loved Florida and everything about it but I hated being away from my dad, he’s like my best friend.”

O’Connor expects her father to be at every game this season now that the distance from Plymouth to Amherst is considerably shorter.

The sophomore attacker attended Notre Dame Academy in high school, located in Hingham, where she played for coach Meredith Frank and led her team to a state championship her senior year. While she was a three-time Under Armour All-American she was not heavily invested in the recruiting process out of high school.

“It’s funny because I came down to choosing between Florida and Michigan, and I picked Florida for the weather,” O’Connor said.

In her first season as a Gator, O’Connor played in 14 games and scored seven goals as a freshman. However, the distance from home turned out to be too much for her as she made the decision to return to the Bay state.

When looking at lacrosse programs in the area, she struggled to find the right fit knowing she didn’t want to play at Boston University and BC might have been out of reach.

“It was actually my dad who brought it up saying, ‘You know, UMass has a great program,’” O’Connor said.

Playing close to home

O’Connor’s teammate and fellow former Gator, Burnett, a redshirt sophomore, came to the decision to transfer to UMass for similar reasons.

Burnett is a Huntington, New York native who also made the decision as a high school recruit to head south to play her freshman year at Florida after an impressive high school career.

Along with being a four-time New York State Scholar-Athlete she finished her high school tenure with 185 goals and 126 assists. The attacker garnered interest from schools across the country including the Minutewomen.

“When I was looking to transfer, I already know that they had showed interest in me before,” Burnett said. “But I never actually came for a visit which I really regret, and I kind of jumped into the Florida decision.”

During her freshman season, Burnett suffered an injury and received a medical redshirt.

“It really turned out to be a blessing because now I have another three years to play here at UMass,” Burnett said.

During her short stint at Florida, Burnett played in five games and recorded one goal en route to being named a Southeastern Conference All-Academic team selection.

Burnett arrived at UMass at the beginning of last fall, and in that time she has quickly acclimated herself to the program and her teammates.

“The coaching and family community is what made me ultimately decide to come here, and I really enjoy the atmosphere here,” Burnett said, “It’s been very different from the experience I had at Florida.”

Building a culture

Minutewomen coach Angela McMahon has built a program that seems to be a magnet for talented athletes across the country, some of which can be attributed to overall success of the last several years.

“I would agree that the program sells itself, but I also think these players see opportunity to play, while other programs play their best 12 or 13 players, we go as deep as 20 into our roster when it comes to playing time,” McMahon said.

While Burnett and O’Connor are both attackers, the Minutewomen will also benefit from added talent on the defensive end as well as the midfield.

UMass plays a full team game on offense, but creating possession for that offense to operate is equally as important.

“The draw possession is a big part of our game, and we want to create as many extra possessions as possible,”  McMahon said.

Defenseman and former Bearcat, Flobeck should provide an increase in possessions for the Minutewomen, both off the draw and on defense. She started all 17 games at Cincinnati and finished with 33 draw controls and caused 15 turnovers as a freshman.

Anderson, a midfielder who played with the Eagles last season, will also be a big help controlling the draw out of the air. As a freshman, she only played in two games and will look to showcase her skills more this season.

The Minutewomen prefer to maintain a hockey-like rotation of players in order to continue playing a fast physical game. It also allows many players on the team to showcase what they can do and allows them to contribute to the team early on.

There is no shortage of playing time at UMass for anyone, and its four new transfer athletes can expect similar treatment.

“At some point they’ll all be on the field,” McMahon said. “The No. 1 thing is that they are athletic, they work really hard and they are adaptive to everything we throw at them.”

The other members of the team have been incredibly welcoming of the four transfers, and it has made transitioning into a totally new system much easier for all of them.

The kind of family orientation and blue-color work attitude that permeates from this program is by design of the coaching staff.

“When we recruit athletes we look beyond just lacrosse, we look for the best overall individuals for our program,” McMahon said, “We’ve been fortunate to get such high-caliber players and people and I’ve found the transfers especially have really appreciated the community they are becoming a part of.”

Nick Souza can be reached at [email protected]

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