UMass Enjoys Resurgence In Women's Lacrosse
May 7, 2009
For the University of Massachusetts women's lacrosse team, Sunday afternoon's NCAA tournament game represents a pinnacle moment for a new era, but with echoes of a proud past.
"We're ready to go," coach Alexis Venechanos said as UMass (11-7) prepared to play at No. 1-seeded and four-time defending NCAA champion Northwestern (19-0) in the first round of the 16-team tournament.
"We have the toughest draw in the tournament, but our players have embraced the underdog mentality. Even as the top seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament, they felt they had something to prove," Venechanos said.
In this matchup, the Minutewomen are underdogs as never before. Known as "Fourth-western" for their ongoing NCAA title run, the Wildcats beat UMass 22-5 March 25 in Amherst.
A former Northwestern assistant who came to UMass in 2007, Venechanos is familiar with the talent and style of the opponent, but that will not make the task any easier.
For UMass, however, this game represents a return to the success it enjoyed in the sport's embryonic days.
In 1982, the Minutewomen won the inaugural NCAA championship in women's lacrosse. They returned to the tournament in 1983 and 1984.
As the sport grew and other schools developed top programs, UMass did not make it back until this year.
"I am really proud of this team," said Venechanos, who was 3 when UMass last played in the NCAA field.
Northwestern would seem to hold all the cards, but UMass does have the advantage of experiencing some wild games.
In two of their last three games, including the A-10 championship game against Saint Joseph's, the Minutewomen rallied from seven-goal deficits to win.
They are 4-1 in one-goal games, and have bounced back from an 0-3 start.
"Whatever happens, we've seen it," Venechanos said.
If UMass can somehow keep it close until the final minutes Sunday, the pressure will swing to Northwestern's shoulders.
Lyons, who moved from midfield to attack this season, has a team-leading 44 goals. Reddy has 33, and is third in the nation in draws.
The goal has been well guarded by Florence, a freshman who elevated her game as the season progressed, lifting her team with saves and interceptions.
Venechanos said she took the UMass coaching job partly because of the success of the school's men's lacrosse team, which gave her program a launching pad.
"We want to be a regional headquarters for lacrosse, I guess you could say, and set the bar," she said.
She is also interested in expanding her program's Western Massachusetts influence. The only local player on the current roster is Courtney Szawlowski of Northampton, a redshirt freshman.
All logic says Northwestern should advance, but the Minutewomen hope this delightfully illogical season has more surprises left.
"The players look at it as, the 2009 team is making history, now, what else can we do?" Venechanos said. "They are proud, but they are not content."