April 29, 2011

UMass' Lyons Composes Lacrosse Bucket List

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com

At the outset of the 2011 season, senior attacker Jackie Lyons sat in her bedroom and looked at the UMass schedule. Lyons had accomplished a lot in her first three season, including 2010 A-10 Attacker of the Year honors, but staring at the schedule and ruminating about her senior season, she decided she wanted to do more.

So she wrote down a lacrosse "bucket list," a list of things she wanted to do before she graduated. The list is seven items long; thus far in the season, Lyons has achieved four out of four of those goals and has lad the Minutewomen to a 14-2 overall record. Today UMass is headed toward No. 5, an A-10 championship in Friday's game versus Duquesne at Temple University. Here's a look at Lyons' list.

1. Beat Boston University

UMass has lost to BU three years running, and Lyons wanted to stick it to the Minutewomen's in-state rival. She did it with a game-leading four goals in a 13-12 win on February 23 on the Terriers' home turf. The upset of then No. 18 BU was perhaps the first sign that the 2011 Minutewomen were a team to be taken seriously.

"You say to yourself, 'We beat this team, and it isn't a fluke. We're a good team.' There's a lot more confidence this year," said Lyons.

The game-winner came with five seconds remaining in regulation from freshman Katie Ferris' first career goal. Ferris has since been named the A-10 Rookie of the Year, contributing 47 goals and 11 assists. She leads the team in goals and is tied with Lyons (31g, 27a) as the points leader. Perhaps more tellingly, seven different players scored for UMass versus BU. Lyons thinks that balanced attack has been a key part of their success.

"There are seven of us, and we're all a threat," said Lyons.

2. Beat the University of New Hampshire

UMass had lost their last five meetings versus UNH, and 10 of the last 12. They broke the streak with a defensive effort keyed by a career-best 16 saves from junior goalie Katie Florence, winning 11-4. UMass dominated draw controls, 14-3, which was a point of emphasis this year. Junior attacker Nina Sarcona led the Minutewomen with three draw controls that day, and Lyons points to her as the unsung hero of the team.

"She gets those draw controls like crazy, and without her, we wouldn't have those possessions we need on attack," said Lyons.

Sarcona currently has 49 draw controls on the season, more than double the next best player on the team. Florence was named A-10 Defensive Player of the Year this week. She leads the league in goals against average (8.33) and save percentage (.487).

3. Beat Duquesne University

The Dukes had handed the Minutewomen three straight losses Lyons, and fellow seniors Nazy Kerr and Haley Smith finally got their victory on April 8 at home, winning 13-5. The Minutewomen had another dominant day on the draw, winning 17 of 21 attempts.

4. Win a game on Senior Day

Lyons had never gotten to send off a class of graduating seniors with a win; she wanted things to be different in 2011, especially since Senior Day happened to fall on her 22nd birthday. She got what she wanted, thanks to a game-leading two goals and two assist performance in a 14-4 win over A-10 rival Richmond. It was one of the most important items to tick off her bucket list.

"The ceremony was after the game, and I just didn't want to do it right after a loss," said Lyons. "No one wants to go out like that."

The win boosted the Minutewomen's overall record to 13-2 overall and 6-0 in league play. It secured them the regular season A-10 title and gave UMass the top seed heading into the conference tournament.

5. Win the A10 Tournament

"We've actually done that two times since I've been here, but it means more as a senior," said Lyons.

Besides chasing No. 5 on her bucket list, Lyons is also chasing a school record for points. She became just the third player in UMass history to pass the 200 carrier points barrier. In 73 total games, Lyons has amassed 211 career points (133g, 78a). She needs four more points to pass Pam Moryl (1982-'85) and eight to tie Cari Nickerson (1977-'80) for the all-time leading scorer. Those are some long-standing records, but with an average of 3.63 points per game, Lyons is within striking distance. She sounds relatively uninterested in scoring records, though -- the 2011 Minutewomen are more about hardworking, unglamorous play than having a high-flying attack.

"We're a scrappy, blue-collar team. The little things lead to the big things," said Lyons.

UMass' two losses, to Albany and to Northwestern, came when they didn't do those little things. Northwestern crushed the Minutewomen on the draw (24-of-26) en route to a 17-10 win. Poor shot selection doomed their closely-fought 10-8 loss to Albany on March 19. Only 372 people were in the stands when these two teams clashed; the rest of the lacrosse world missed a hard-fought battle between two under-the-radar squads who have since risen to prominence. Albany, now ranked No. 9 in the nation, is the only undefeated team besides top-ranked Maryland.

"We were two very similar teams. Usually if we're the grittier team, we'll win a game. Unfortunately for us, they were a little scrappier," said Lyons.

6. Go further in the NCAA tournament

UMass missed the NCAA tournament entirely in 2008, Lyons' freshman year. In 2009, she scored the game-winner in an A-10 championship overtime thriller, delivering a 15-14 victory over St. Joseph's. Their reward from the NCAA Committee was something of a backhanded compliment -- a first-round match-up with No. 1 seeded Northwestern. The Wildcats crushed them, 23-6, en route to a fifth straight national championship. In 2010, the Minutewomen lost a 15-12 play-in game to Stanford.

"It was just so disappointing to go out there and play them close and then lose it after all," said Lyons. "I want us to go further, and I think it will be different this time."

It's impossible to say at this point who UMass might draw in the NCAA tournament. Though the Minutewomen completed their first-ever undefeated A-10 regular season (7-0), they are without a signature win over a non-conference opponent and will likely need to win the A10 tournament to secure a berth in the NCAA postseason.

That said, they've defeated their in-conference opponents by an average 9.7 margin of victory, so the path looks fairly clear. If they win today's game versus Duquesne, they'll face the winner of No. 2 seeded Richmond and No. 3 seeded Temple. The Owls came closest to knocking off the Minutewomen in regular season play, losing 12-9 in Amherst on March 31.

7. Win a NCAA championship

Lyons: "Whose bucket list isn't that on?"

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