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UMass meets UConn in NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament

AMHERST — For the first time in 29 years, when the University of Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team steps onto field for its first round NCAA tournament game, the Minutewomen won’t be the underdog.

UMass won’t be heavily favored either when it meets Connecticut at 6 p.m. at Penn State. The Minutewomen are ranked higher than the Huskies in the IWCLA coaches poll (No. 15 to No. 18), but both teams have had strong seasons. Unlike in the previous years when UMass lost to No. 1 Northwestern (2009), No. 15 Stanford (2010), No. 5 Loyola (2011) and No. 3 (Maryland), the Minutewomen don’t have a daunting mountain to climb to advance.

“We’ve been trying to get rid of that intimidation factor. The past couple years we’ve played the top teams in the country,” UMass coach Angela McMahon said. “I think we walked onto the field and we were a little scared, a little nervous. That let them build a lead. We need to be the intimidators now and really set the tone early in terms of being aggressive and firing on all cylinders.”

The winner will face the winner of Canisius and No. 7 Penn State, Sunday at 1 p.m.

Getting to Sunday would fulfill a season-long goal for the Minutewomen, who haven’t won a first-round game since 1984, well before any current players were even born.

“It would mean everything. It would be an opportunity to showcase the hard work we did all year,” senior Lauren Terracciano said. “We have to not just be happy to be here, but be determined to make the next step.”

Senior defender Kelsey Palmer agreed.

“I’d be so excited. To make it through the first round would be awesome. I’d be so proud of us. That would be big for this program,” Palmer said. “When we won A-10’s I felt like that was expected. I wasn’t as excited as I was freshman year and sophomore year. Now I feel like this is our challenge to get past this first round. This is the step we all dreamed of — to get here and win that first game.”

McMahon liked her team’s mindset and level of play as they try to fulfill that aspiration.

“That’s a goal. That’s something we’ve been building up to over the past couple of years. Each time we’ve played in the NCAAs we’ve steadily gotten better, move confident,” she said. “Every team you’re playing is a top team and they’re giving you everything they have. I think we’re better prepared this year in terms of our mentality going in to it. I love our confidence. I love the way we’re playing. Everybody is stepping up right now. Our intensity and focus is great.”

For the first time McMahon will coach against UConn, where she was the head coach in 2009 and 2010. She coached the Huskies’ current seniors and recruited all but one junior before taking over at UMass in 2011.

“I think it’s exciting. You love any sort of rivals and fun matchups,” McMahon said. “It adds excitement to the game.”

There are plenty other personal connection between the two teams. Palmer and UConn attack Dorian Gilmartin-Dzitko were teammates and personal rivals as Hillsborough (N.J.) High School.

“If we lose to them that would be bad for me. I’d be very upset. I played with her, but it was always a competition with us because we were both very good athletes and played every sport together,” Palmer said. “It would be upsetting to me if we lose to them on my last game. It’s funny I played my whole life with her and now my last game or her last game would be this Friday.”

Hillsborough is one of six high schools in four states to have a player on each team joining Andover, Acton-Boxborough, Nanuet, N.Y., Massepequa, N.Y., and Glastonbury, Conn.

The Huskies (13-4) will be making their first-ever NCAA appearance. They boast wins over No. 19 Boston College and No. 9 Notre Dame, but are on a three-game losing streak. They fell to No. 6 Georgetown and No. 11 Loyola in the regular season and No. 5 Syracuse in the Big East tournament.

Junior midfielder Lauren Kahn leads UConn with 38 goals and 23 assists, followed by freshman attack Carly Palmucci (30 goals, 16 assists).

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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