February 24, 2016
Senior attacker Erika Eipp had a team-high seven points in Massachusetts' 16-4 win over New Hampshire. (Tom Kendall Photography)
Senior attacker Erika Eipp had a team-high seven points in Massachusetts' 16-4 win over New Hampshire. (Tom Kendall Photography)

WD1 Notes: Massachusetts' Secret to Success

by Megan Schneider | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Schneider Archive

Since Angela McMahon took the reins as head coach in 2011, Massachusetts has recorded 12 losses in five seasons. In 2010 alone, the Minutewomen had 10 losses, yet in each of the past two seasons, they only lost twice. Unquestionably, they have been mainstays in the Atlantic 10 conference with five straight regular season crowns and seven straight A-10 tournament titles.

UMass jumped into the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Top 20 this week at No. 20, continuing that dominance with two early season victories over Holy Cross and New Hampshire by a combined 23 goals. While they have yet to face a Top 20 opponent, and haven't advanced past the first or second rounds of the NCAA tournament since 2009, their unrelenting drive to succeed continually puts them on the map.

What's their secret?

"Our players past and present have made our program successful," said McMahon. "They continue to raise the bar of expectations, which has helped our team improve each year. Bringing in players and coaches with that gritty, and tireless work ethic combined with our positive family-like culture we've created makes the snow days or negative wind chill days enjoyable."

With a home in the north, an early February game brings its own challenges (it was 32 degrees against Holy Cross in their home opener), but the team's personnel this year has the experience to boot. Attacker Erika Eipp, the 2015 Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year, led last season with 75 points and a team-best 30 assists. The Farnham twins are a key duo – Kate and Anne anchor a defense that was ranked No. 1 in Division I for much of this past season (it finished tied for fourth with Drexel). Then after a breakout season, Hannah Murphy was named the Atlantic 10 Midfielder of the Year, earning a spot to tryout for the U.S. women's national team.

"Combining that [experience] with their work ethic and motivation to be the best team they can possibly be is the driving force," said McMahon. "We're much deeper than we've been, and our chemistry on offense has really clicked the past few games, and a huge credit to that goes to assistant coach Brianna Cronin Roche who has really helped our offensive players develop."

In addition to the top returners, UMass boasts six transfers on the current roster, including Eipp, whose first season with the Minutewomen was in 2014 after spending her freshman year at Louisville. Each brings a unique perspective from other conferences. Redshirt sophomore Hannah Burnett and sophomore Bella O'Connor came in from Florida, plus Alex Flobeck from Cincinnati, Sarah Crowley from Virginia and Kiley Anderson from Boston College.

Also, Rebekka Sverrisdottir, an Iceland native, joined the lacrosse team for her final semester at UMass after being a four-year standout on the women's soccer team. It is her first time ever playing the sport.

The conglomeration of talent across multiple sports, teams and experiences continues to bode well for the Minutewomen.

"They are hungry to contribute in any way and are so appreciative of their opportunities to be a part of such a special team," said McMahon.

As with any team, UMass focuses on the day-to-day and statistical goals, rather than wins and losses – play for a full 60 minutes, run multiple looks on offense and defense, make everyone a weapon, win the draw and minimize turnovers and scoreless possessions.

Can the Minutewomen push past the second round of the NCAAs in 2016?

"We are talented and athletic enough that we should be putting ourselves in a situation to be successful," said McMahon. "We want to stay together as long as possible, and have set high goals for ourselves to be better than we've ever been, which I absolutely think this group is capable of."

Freshman Nikki Polhamus was named the Patriot League Rookie of the Week after a six-point performance in Army's win over Central Connecticut State. (Army Athletics)

Army's Fearless Mantra

VCU earned its first-ever win last week, and while the Black Knights hit a bump in the road in its season opener, falling 14-9 to Manhattan, Army has etched its mark in the history books as well.

On Feb. 20, Army defeated Central Connecticut State 8-7 for its first win in program history. Nikki Polhamus tallied a team-high five goals, Amy Johnston scored two and Erin Jollota had one.

After almost 40 years as a club, West Point's team played this past fall with full varsity status, coach Kristen Waagbo is pleased to see it all come to fruition.

"To get our program's first win feels great and it is a memorable step along this journey," she said. "Winning is not easy, especially with so much parity in our growing sport. I'm proud that our team showed grit and found a way to get it done after a hard fought game."

Following the game, Waago spoke praise of their relentless play and wanted them to have the opportunity to celebrate, but it was all back to business the following Monday with film sessions reviewing their first two games.

"With our young team this year, it is important to be a student of the game," said Waagbo. "The outcome of our first game, and our second game in many ways, showed our team that it takes 60 minutes or more of mental and physical toughness to secure a victory. It is exhausting to be in the moment and to be sharp during every play of the game, and that is the standard they need to become comfortable with. ... We constantly assess our effort and intangibles as a team."

The decision to elevate the team to Division I was the result of a January 2016 deadline faced by the Army to decide whether to open combat jobs to women, including infantry, armor and special operations. In 2013, that mandate moved West Point officials to commit to raising female enrollment to 20 percent, which meant adding sports.

Waagbo hopes their experiences with the lacrosse team – the wins and losses – will supplement their future careers in the Army.

"This win has reassured them of their vision for this program," she said. "They know they are laying the foundation for our program this year and they have been fearless."

"We are realizing that as a new team we can't rely on experience for our confidence, and that confidence has to come from a deeper place within us. As they transition into their careers as Army officers, they will undoubtedly step into new and challenging roles where they will need confidence and vision to succeed."

Junior Kylie Drexel scored a team-high four goals to lift USC past Duke. (Dirk Dewachter)

USC Ignores the Hype

The USC program has officially embarked on its fourth season after making history in year three – winning its first NCAA tournament game against James Madison.

The Trojans opened with a dominant showing against Stetson, and followed it up with an impressive 11-5 upset win over then-No. 12 Duke – the team that ended their 2015 season in a 17-9 loss.

Returning all but one starter and nearly 98 percent of its point production, it appears there's nowhere to go but up. USC soared to No. 11 in the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Top 20 after teetering on the edge in the preseason rankings at No. 20.

"It is great to finally have experience all over the field," said USC coach Lindsey Munday. "We are excited that we beat a great Duke team, but we did not earn anything because of it."

"We are trying not to focus on last year, but taking this year as a brand new opportunity for us to improve and get better," she added. "The Duke game was a great step in that direction, but it is still very early in the season and we have a lot to improve on."

The program's first All-American Michaela Michael was faceguarded against Duke, first by Blue Devils senior midfielder Maddy Action, then by senior defender Isabelle Montagne. But it was no challenge for Michael or the Trojans. Six different Trojans scored on Saturday with a team-high four goals from junior Kyle Drexel. Michael and Caroline de Lyra tallied two each.

De Lyra leads a fifteen-member senior class that was a part of the inaugural 26-player roster, which has been followed since day one. With its breakout success in 2015, USC was featured in LM's 30 in 30 series this past fall for its Northwestern-like trajectory (The Wildcats earned its first NCAA tournament win also in its third year) and then on the January cover of Lacrosse Magazine in a special west coast edition.

While the team appears to be living up to the hype surrounding the program, Munday, a former Northwestern standout who led the 'Cats to back-to-back national titles, puts that unique connection at the back of her mind.

"This group is so special because from the beginning," said Munday. "It's always been about us and no one else. Hype is only something if you buy into it and our girls are just focused on getting better and on our next opponent."

With a team-high five goals, Bella Huther kept the Bears in the game against Ohio State, lifting them into overtime for a one-goal loss. (GoldenBearSports.com, Maciek Gudrymowicz) 

Cal Wants to be Known

It's not even March yet and the 2016 season has already had its fair share of surprises across the country. While the hotbed for lacrosse has traditionally been on the east coast, it's the west coast that has been making a name of its own.

From USC upsetting Duke to Oregon slipping past Michigan, which had just played No. 3 Florida to a one-goal game, the MSPF seems the strongest it's been in the history of the league as it gears up for the Pac-12 in 2018.

"The MPSF has had major growth in the past seven years," said Cal coach Brooke Eubanks. "Every year, the bar gets set higher and more and more teams are vying for the top spots – top spots in the conference and top spots in the country."

It was Cal, the team that finished in ninth place of 10 teams in the MPSF last year, that almost added to the upsets of the weekend. In their season opener, the Bears faced then-No. 17 Ohio State and took them into overtime.

Cal junior midfielder/attacker Bella Huther, who had a team-high five goals, and sophomore midfielder Meredith Haggerty each scored a goal in the final 2:32 of the game to knot it at 15. While goals were called back and Buckeye Cian Dabrowski scored the game winner in the extra period, the Bears' play – a major turnaround since 2016 – was a sign of things to come.

"We never gave up," said Eubanks. "It has taken us a year of hard work to get to where we are today. Last season wasn't easy, but we focused on a lot of things that might not have shown in the win-loss column last year. We are being rewarded for it now."

It will only be a matter of time before Cal could be considered a dark horse in the MPSF. The Bears open conference play against USC on March 18.

"Hopefully our play won't be surprising soon, but the standard we have set," said Eubanks.

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