“She’s the point guard:” Haley Connaughton’s playmaking sets the tone in UMass’ 21-12 victory over Saint Joseph’s

Star senior set a season high with six assists, all of which were in the first half

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Freeman Alfano, Collegian Staff

Late in the first half, star senior Haley Connaughton found a cutting Olivia Muscella at the front of the net, who put a shot home to give the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team an 11-6 lead over Saint Joseph’s. It’s was Connaughton’s third assist in a row – all of which she obtained in a three-minute time span.

With that pass to Muscella, Connaughton set her season high for assists with six – in just the first half of the Minutewomen’s eighth straight win.

“She’s the point guard,” head coach Angela McMahon said of Connaughton postgame. “She’s distributing the ball… but she’s also balanced in that if she has a lane, she’ll drive and be aggressive. She just always has her head up, she sees the field and she’s a playmaker.”

Before UMass, Connaughton actually was a point guard at Westwood High School, where she shared the court with current teammates Fiona McGowan and Alex Finn. In her senior year, Connaughton was not only a captain of the 17-8 Westwood Wolverines, but was named an honorable mention for the Tri Valley League awards as well.

“She was a three-sport athlete in high school, and [she’s] sort of taking that point guard position and moving it to a lacrosse field,” McMahon said.

Although Connaughton did not record any of her eight points on the afternoon in the latter 30 minutes, her impact on the game was immeasurable. After that playmaking outburst near the end of the first half, the Minutewomen went on a 6-0 run to begin the second, which amounted to an eventual 21-12 victory.

That run was a product of the cuts that were working so well for UMass all afternoon and continued to happen even as Connaughton’s statistical production started to wane.

“She’s reliant on players from the wing that are making exceptional cuts at the right time,” McMahon said. “If we didn’t have athletes up there that weren’t doing their jobs on the cuts, then we wouldn’t have those looks.”

It was Connaughton’s selflessness on Friday that made her such an unstoppable attacker. While defenses can usually focus in on her scoring abilities, it’s a whole different game when they have to take her passing into account, too. This is a skill that Connaughton has always had but can go unnoticed at times due to her lofty goal numbers.

“She sees the field, she anticipates, but it’s that dual threat,” McMahon said of what makes her such a potent playmaker. “She’s getting [goals and assists] in because she’ll also take it to the cage when she’s open… it’s just the balance of it all, being the dual threat at all times, and then just pinpoint passing.”

That pinpoint passing is consistent across the Minutewomen roster and has them rolling right now. UMass, now winners of each of their last eight, has the second-highest scoring offense in the NCAA and has scored more than 20 goals in each of their last three contests.

Connaughton and the rest of her teammates will look to keep up that precise playmaking next Friday against La Salle. Faceoff in Philadelphia is scheduled for 2 pm.

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