UMass women’s lacrosse begins Atlantic 10 play Friday against St. Joe’s

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

As the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team travels to Philadelphia to take on Saint Joseph’s, it must deal with large, warranted expectations. Friday’s game marks the beginning of Atlantic 10 play; a place the Minutewomen have dominated for the majority of the past decade.

UMass (7-1) was the preseason A-10 conference favorite, which was a surprise to no one. The Minutewomen haven’t lost in the conference since the end of the 2009-10 regular season, and have won the A-10 title each of the last seven seasons. This type of domination puts a bulls-eye on your back, as every team in the conference is looking to steal the division crown. The Hawks (1-7) will have the first opportunity to attempt to dethrone the division champions.

The meeting between UMass and St. Joe’s features two teams trending in opposite directions. The Minutewomen roared through their non-conference schedule with a 7-1 start to the season, while the Hawks have struggled early on, losing their last five contests.

St. Joe’s has not defeated UMass since April 10, 2005 and Minutewomen coach Angela McMahon does not envision her team changing strategies as conference play starts, as she feels that her team should dictate each game they play.

“It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, the focus is on what we need to do and hopefully if we achieve all of our in-game goals – setting the tone, winning the possession game, draw controls, ground balls and shooting efficiency – we are putting ourselves in a good position to win,” McMahon said.

UMass is coming off an extended break, having a nine-day layover between the Albany game (March 23) and Friday’s game. While this has allowed the Minutewomen to get a needed rest during the intense season, it also halts the momentum they were building. McMahon hopes her team can pick up where they left off, citing a quick start as something they are building toward. She also wants UMass to find its rhythm and flow early on.

“(We want) consistency in terms of what we’ve been doing all season long, getting out to a quick start, being intense, aggressive, focusing on the possession game early on and from there, we are able to build momentum and dictate pace of play. So I think that’s definitely a key focus point for us,” McMahon added.

Last season, the Minutewomen got out to a fast start leading the Hawks 11-3 at the half. Though down by a large margin, St. Joe’s did not quit, only being outscored by UMass by one goal (5-4) in the second half. McMahon has learned from experience that despite the Hawks record, they will compete the entire game. She knows her team will have to keep their foot on the gas the full length of the game, no matter the score.

“(St. Joe’s) fights for a full 60 minutes. They have some pretty good athletes with great speed who can push the ball pretty hard so I think it’s just making sure for us, because of that intensity that they’re bringing all game. I think we need to be sharp, take care of the ball and focus on the things we need to do for the entire duration.”

UMass should have its way with the St. Joe’s defense. The Minutewomen have a plethora of scorers, averaging over 13.38 goals per game as a team on the season, while the Hawks have struggled defensively, allowing 13.25 goals per game. In addition, St. Joe’s has failed to keep the opposition under ten goals this year.

Friday’s game will begin at 3 p.m. at Sweeny Field.

Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected]