Ranking the top UMass sports moments from the 2019-20 Season

Looking at the big moments from UMass last year

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Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian

By Freeman Alfano, Collegian Correspondent

The last academic season of sports for the University of Massachusetts athletic programs were filled with spectacular plays, hard-fought victories and memories that will last a lifetime. Even in a shortened spring season, UMass athletics featured thrilling battles for playoff spots, dramatic wins as clear underdogs and of course, a hockey season that couldn’t disappoint even the most spoiled of fans. As these programs gear up for competition in the upcoming year, let’s take a look back at the most iconic moments from last season’s UMass sports teams.

This is by no means a definitive ranking and is instead my grading of the importance the moment held for that specific team, the level of competition the moment was achieved at and how dramatic the actual moment was.

5. Winning streaks galore for the basketball programs

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

With a young team and a bunch of new faces after a rocky 2018-19 season, the men’s basketball team came out on fire to start 2019. The team’s top recruit in Tre Mitchell proved he was the real deal from the first game, freshman TJ Weeks lit teams up from beyond the arc, and captain Carl Pierre provided some solid complementary scoring next to the young duo. Along with a handful of helpful role players, the Minutemen jumped out to a 5-0 start before having its momentum slowed by the reigning national champions in Virginia. Although it was short-lived, this run proved how competitive the core of Pierre, Weeks and Mitchell can be under head coach Matt McCall going forward.

The women, on the other hand, did not have a short-lived winning streak. Their streak more than doubled their male counterparts with 11 consecutive victories between November and January. While it was highlighted by standout seniors Hailey Leidel and Vashnie Perry, the real key to the Minutewomen’s longevity was Penn State transfer Sam Breen. Despite not suiting up until mid-December, Breen led the team in scoring with 16 points per game as UMass won its first six games following her debut. During this run and the rest of the season, Breen proved she can carry the torch from recent graduates Leidel and Perry.

4. December 6 – Cale Makar is etched in UMass lore as the Minutemen take down Maine

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

In a fun, yet somewhat mild hockey season compared to the year before, this was a moment everyone was anticipating and it didn’t disappoint. The recent Calder Trophy winner had his Hobey Baker-winning banner raised to the rafters before an amped up UMass team took down an overpowered Maine squad. In the arena he starred in less than a year before, Makar returned to a crowd that adored him just as much as when he was playing. That evening, along with Makar’s magical final season with the Minutemen, all but confirmed the electrifying defenseman’s place among the all-time great athletes in UMass history.

3. February 8 – Women’s lacrosse takes down No. 5 Boston College in its season opener

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

This was the perfect redemption story for a team that lost to top-ranked Boston College just a year earlier. Behind four goals from Haley Connaughton, the Minutewomen earned their first victory over a top-five team in program history by defeating the Eagles. While they lost the next game to No. 22 Dartmouth, UMass’s 4-1 start and its win over BC proved this team belonged with the top programs in the country before their season was unfortunately cut short.

2. November 1 – Field Hockey dramatically earns its ticket to the A-10 Tournament with a shootout victory over Virginia Commonwealth

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

Despite this game not having a goal for nearly an hour and a half of game action, this was easily one of the most exciting and dramatic UMass sporting events of the year. After going scoreless for all four quarters and two overtime periods, senior Sophie de Jonge capped off a tremendous season with a game-winning shootout deke that kept the Minutewomen’s postseason hopes alive. On top of this, there were scoring chances up until the end of the overtime periods. And for the icing on the cake, it was Senior Day for de Jonge and the rest of her classmates, and the UMass football team made an energetic appearance in the fan section. Although this game had almost everything to offer –besides goals– there was one clear winner on this list from the start.

1. February 29 – Men’s Lacrosse takes down No. 1 Yale with a 13-10 victory in Amherst

Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian

How can the top spot on this list not be a UMass team taking down a No. 1 ranked program? After a bumpy 2-2 start to the season, David took down the proverbial Goliath in Yale as the Minutemen defeated the undefeated Bulldogs. It was the first time the lacrosse program has beaten a No. 1 ranked team in history and was also the squad’s first time defeating a top five ranked team since 2014. An 11-2 goal differential in the first half proved to be too much for the powerhouse in Yale. While they tried to mount a second half comeback, the Bulldogs’ efforts were too little, too late against the upset-hungry Minutemen. This game was the epitome of the UMass sports program as a whole. They may be overlooked, they might be undermanned, and they could appear to be overpowered, but it’d be a mistake to count them out.

 

Honorable mentions:

September 28 – Football’s first win of the Walt Bell Era with a 37-29 home win over Akron

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

This was the shining moment in an otherwise forgettable football season for Minutemen fans. On top of being UMass’ first victory under head coach Bell, it was the first win for third-string quarterback Michael Curtis, who threw two touchdown passes in just his second career start. Future NFL player Isaiah Rodgers had a pick six too. As much as I wanted to put this on the list, it was tough to justify rewarding a losing team for winning a single game over a struggling squad in Akron.

March 3 – Women’s basketball cruises past Saint Bonaventure 72-54 in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

Behind a well-rounded team effort –and some screaming from coach Tory Verdi on the bench–in which five Minutewomen scored at least eight points, UMass easily took down St. Bonaventure in this one. Its stifling defense held the Bonnies to 16 points and 11 turnovers in the first half. The only reason this game didn’t make the list was because UMass dominated so thoroughly from start to finish, the outcome was never really in question.

November 3 – Women’s soccer shuts out Fordham at Rudd field in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Despite not scoring until six minutes into the second half, the Minutewomen took this one to advance in the Atlantic 10 tournament. UMass dominated the shot differential throughout and keeper Peyton Ryan needed just one save to earn a clean sheet. Like the women’s basketball team’s win in the A-10, there wasn’t enough drama in this one to make the list.

March 7 – Men’s basketball loses a 64-63 nail-biter to Rhode Island to close out its season

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

The Dayton game almost made an appearance instead of this one, but this contest was too compelling to leave out. Freshman center Tre Mitchell capped off a promising rookie season with a career-high 34 points as the Minutemen nearly took down one of its A-10 rivals. Without a controversial defensive foul call against Mitchell for the game-winning free throws, they just might have pulled it off, too. Unfortunately, an empty space in the W column leaves this game just outside the final five.

 

Freeman Alfano can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @freemanalfano.