Red-hot start powers Minutewomen to 20-7 victory over Vermont

UMass scored goals on each of its first eight shots on net in the win

Hannah Burnett (19). UMass Womens Lacrosse plays St. Josephs on April 2, 2017 at Garber Field. Photo by Caroline OConnor/Daily Collegian)

Hannah Burnett (19). UMass Women’s Lacrosse plays St. Joseph’s on April 2, 2017 at Garber Field. Photo by Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

By Freeman Alfano, Collegian Staff

Over the last two weeks, Vermont lacrosse goalkeeper Sophie McLaughlin has solidified herself as the best goaltender in the America East conference. As of Monday, the junior netminder led the conference in both save percentage and saves per game while being named the back-to-back conference defensive player of the week.

That all changed Wednesday when she let up goals on each of the first eight shots on net by the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team, who rode its early offensive fireworks to a 20-7 victory.

“When we put that much pressure on the defense, it can be hard [to stop],” UMass head coach Angela McMahon said of her team’s quick start. “You can’t really, in any given situation, blame the goalie because there’s seven other players in front of her… we did a great job of asserting ourselves and just being extremely aggressive.”

Leading the charge for the Minutewomen (5-2, 0-0 A-10) were Stephanie Croke and Kaitlyn Cerasi, who took over in the first and second halves, respectively. The pair combined for 11 points on the afternoon and outscored the Catamounts (3-2, 3-0 AE) by themselves.

“They’ve just had so much experience that when they walk on the field, they just have a certain level of confidence and lacrosse IQ,” McMahon said of the veteran duo. “Having been through so many games on the field, it has a very calming effect on everybody else. They did a great job of being very consistent, being threats, connecting with one another on the field and with the rest of their teammates, as well.”

But like Sunday’s win against Holy Cross, this victory was an entire team effort, and not just on offense. Defensively, UMass sniffed out many of Vermont’s chances and consistently forced Catamount turnovers. When the defenders did slip up, goaltender Lauren Hiller, who had nine saves, was ready to bail them out.

“Hiller played great,” McMahon said. “She made some really great stops that served as catalysts [for the defense], too.”

To be fair, Hiller’s job in net was much easier than her goalkeeping counterpart across the field in McLaughlin. Per McMahon’s objective for this season’s games, the Minutewomen fired 40-plus shots in the contest, 35 of which reached McLaughlin at the cage or flew behind her.

One of those goals came from defenseman Courtney Barrett, who scored her first of the season after going coast-to-coast with the ball in the first half. But after being hit while shooting, Barrett laid on the field in lieu of a celebration before teammates helped her walk off.

“We’ll see how she is and evaluate [from there],” McMahon said of her starting defenseman while adding that they do not know the nature or extent of the injury at this point. “She’s a tough kid, and I know she’ll be back out there soon enough… I feel confident that in any role she has for us, she’ll step up for sure.”

Much like Sunday’s game, the entire team stepped up today, especially on the offensive end. Like Barrett, substitutes Kylee Bowen and Emma Farnham also scored their firsts on the year. Beyond regular contributors such as Croke, Cerasi, Haley Connaughton and Kelly Marra, the scariest part of this UMass attack is just how deep it is with new playmakers making their presence known on a game-by-game basis.

“It’s one thing for teams to have to focus on one or two players, but I think we’ve got so many weapons that the more and more we can get people contributing, the harder it is to stop us,” McMahon said.

After Wednesday’s win, the Minutewomen now find themselves on a season long three-game winning streak, which they’ll look to continue this Sunday against La Salle. Faceoff in Amherst is scheduled for noon.

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