April 22, 2009

Going Gets Tough Against UMass' Rosenzweig

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Jackie Rosenzweig, once "kind of like a walk-on" and a self-proclaimed loudmouth, will start her 70th consecutive game for UMass when the top-seeded Minutewomen play fourth-seeded George Washington at 1 p.m. Friday in the Atlantic-10 tournament.

© UMass Athletic

Jackie Rosenzweig has been an intimidating presence for the Massachusetts defense for four seasons. Yet the senior defender still gets a healthy dose of nerves before every Minutewomen game.

And she still peers ever so anxiously at the whiteboard after the team's pre-game meditation as the starting lineup is unveiled -- even after starting every game of her career.

"I worry about it," Rosenzweig said. "I ask my teammates, ‘Did I have a good practice?' I'm never comfortable."

Rosenzweig will find her name in the starting lineup for the 70th straight game when top-seeded Massachusetts faces fourth-seeded George Washington at 1 p.m. Friday in the first of the Atlantic-10 tournament semifinals at host Temple University. She will tie Kathleen Typadis' school record.

"I was kind of like a walk-on," said Rosenzweig, who hails from Massapequa (N.Y.) High School. "I was never considering that [record.] I just work every practice hoping I'll start every game."

Rosenzweig's example is a big reason a young defense has developed into one of the top units in the A-10. She is one of just three seniors playing for UMass. Holly Drown is a leader on the offensive end, Meghan Reddy provides a presence in the midfield and Rosenzweig is a force in the back. Her tireless work begins every day in practice, where she established herself as a starter.

"When you see your leader not taking anything for granted, it has to translate to the younger players," said UMass head coach Alexis Venechanos. "It keeps the level of practice up."

With a win Friday, Rosenzweig will have the opportunity to break the record for career starts in Sunday's A-10 championship game, against either second-seeded Richmond or third-seeded St. Joseph's, who play the second semifinal 3:30 p.m. Friday. The A-10 winner claims the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament, and UMass has beaten all three tournament entrants in the regular season.

"It's awesome being the top seed in my final year," Rosenzweig said. "It's like a progression for each year I've been in the tournament. It's like the roles have reversed this year. We can't really take anyone lightly."

Last year, UMass lost in the championship game after advancing as the fourth seed. The Minutewomen earned the top spot this year with a 6-1 finish to claim their first regular-season crown since 2000, also the only year they have won the A-10 tournament.

"We know teams are going to come after us," Rosenzweig said, "so we're going to have to come after them harder. Something our coach says is, we're always going to be the underdog."

Rosenzweig is one underdog whose bite matches her bark.

A self-proclaimed loudmouth, she is the vocal and charismatic anchor of a defense that began the year with little experience. Defensive midfielder Nazy Kerr is a sophomore who started only one game as a freshman. Defender Riley Perry and defensive midfielder Jesse O'Donnell are freshmen, as is goalie Katie Florence, a leading candidate for the A-10 Rookie of the Year.

"Jackie Rose brings us a presence and a toughness," Venechanos said. "She's somebody who is what UMass lacrosse stands for. She plays with a lot of passion and aggression. She gives our defense a personality."

The Minutewomen rank second in the league in goals allowed per game. Even before Rosenzweig played a game for the Minutewomen, they knew of her potential. The 2006 media guide -- issued as Rosenzweig readied for her freshman debut -- called her "a strong, coachable player who excels at causing turnovers."

Rosenzweig leads the Minutewomen in caused turnovers for the third straight year with 15 to go with 16 ground balls. Rosenzweig ranks third all-time in program history with 79 caused turnovers.

"I really think it's me wanting the ball," Rosenzweig said. "I also play pretty physical. I've learned to play more smart-physical."

Her play has helped shut down several of the top scorers in the A-10 this season while elevating UMass to a program-record six conference wins. She held Duquesne's Meghan Frederick, the A-10 leader in points, to two goals and an assist. Richmond's Allison Furstenburg, the third-leading scorer in the A-10, had just one goal. George Washington's Taylor Donohue, eighth in the A-10 in points, had just one goal and one assist as UMass won, 18-5, in the regular season.

Rosenzweig and the Minutewomen will try to do the same against the Colonials on Friday. This time, the stakes are even higher. It's not a seeding on the line, but a season and a collegiate career for Rosenzweig, who will represent Team Ireland in the World Cup in Prague this summer.

"I gave her a lot of responsibility," Venechanos said. "We're sorely going to miss her personality and her leadership."

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