NCAASports.com Feature On UMass Women's Lacrosse Coaching Staff
March 29, 2007
They say age shouldn't matter, and in the case of the University of Massachusetts women's lacrosse coaching staff, it doesn't.
The Minutewomen's first-year head coach Alexis Venechanos is just 26 years old, but is a seasoned veteran when it comes to success in the sport. Venechanos played for the University of Maryland, where she was a member of back-to-back NCAA championship squads, and served as the starting goaltender for the 21-0 national title team in 2001.
Not only has Venechanos experienced the ultimate success as a player, but after graduation, she became an assistant coach at Northwestern University, winner of the last two NCAA titles.
"'I've been personally mentored by the best lacrosse minds in the nation and the world," said Venechanos.
She played for former Maryland head coach Cindy Timchal, the winningest coach in Division I women's lacrosse history who won eight national championships with the Terps, as well as current head coach Cathy Reese and former assistant Gary Gait. At Northwestern, she studied under head coach Kelly Amonte-Hiller, a Maryland alum, for three seasons.
"They're great people and definitely innovative and they have definitely changed the game," said Venechanos. "I've been really fortunate to be around really good people and great lacrosse minds. I've been able to balance my philosophies and theirs and mesh them with what UMass is doing right now."
Venechanos hired two former Northwestern players to join her staff at UMass. The 25-year-old Angela McMahon served as the head coach for Division II's Bentley last year, and played for Northwestern for three seasons, helping to bring the Wildcats' program back to prominence after 11 years of dormancy.
"I think the advantage is that we are very up on the game," said McMahon. "The game been changing a lot over the past couple years, and because we were players and experienced that, we're very familiar with things like the new stick tricks and the new rules."
Sarah Albrecht, the Most Valuable Player of the 2006 NCAA Championship, completes the staff. The 24-year-old is in her first year out of college, and is currently a member of the U.S. Elite Team.
"I think what we lack in our age, we make up for in our experiences," said Venechanos. "We've been able to experience the top at a young age and I think that's the biggest pro that we have going into this."
Venechanos' mix of experiences -- being a player for a perennial power as well as an assistant coach for a program that built its way to the top -- is also a plus.
"I think having a combination of both is very helpful, because once you are in a situation when you are winning a lot, it's good to know how to win, but also it's good to know how to build up to that point," said Venechanos.
After a few down years in the recent past, the Minutewomen have already made strides with the help of the energy infused by their young coaching staff. Earlier in the season, UMass was ranked in the IWLCA national rankings for the first time since 1999, and earned its first victory against a ranked opponent since 2000 when the Minutewomen beat then-No. 16 Boston University in the second game of the season. After starting 4-2, the team is currently 5-5 ahead it heads into the Atlantic-10 portion of the schedule.
"Even the games where we haven't been successful and gotten the wins, there has been a big improvement and I think that started back in the fall when the team committed to change their attitude and mindset," said Venechanos. "I think this is a product of all the hard work they have put in. Usually, when you are prepared and work hard, good things happen. I definitely see more confidence when they step on the field."
UMass opens Atlantic-10 Conference play at Temple on April 6.
By Amy Farnum
NCAASports.com Staff Writer
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