Colleges notebook: UMass spring season kicks off this weekend for lacrosse, softball programs

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-08-2024 5:16 PM

Believe it or not, the spring season begins this weekend for the UMass athletic department, and it’s a busy time of year with the overlap of the winter and spring sport teams all in action. Even with weather warming up this weekend, the temperatures look like they’ll once again drop next week – meaning it’s going to be a bit chilly as the spring programs get underway this month.

Men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse and softball are all in action this weekend. With that, here is a quick breakdown of each team and what to be on the lookout for this spring.

Men’s lacrosse

The Minutemen finished 8-6 last season, including a 3-2 mark in the Atlantic 10 before losing to Richmond in the first round of the conference tournament to end their season.

UMass brings back a ton of offensive production from last year’s squad, which is definitely something to keep an eye on since the Minutemen already averaged just over 10 goals per game in their eight wins.

That offense is led by graduate senior Mike Tobin, who was tops on the team with 38 points last year. UMass may have lost Gabriel Procyk and his team-leading 23 goals, but Tobin is more than capable of filling the void and he proved that last year. It will help that alongside him is fellow graduate student Carter Castillo and his third-best 29 points from a year ago.

Seniors Shane O’Leary (20 points in 2023), Mason Bregman (19 points in 2023) and Grant Breyo (16 points in 2023) round out a plethora of skilled veteran scorers on head coach Greg Cannella’s squad.

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Throw in Preseason All-Conference face off specialist Caleb Hammett and Preseason All-Conference goalie Matt Knote, and the Minutemen have a solid group from top to bottom. 

UMass was picked to finish third in the A-10 preseason poll, tied with High Point at 21 points. The Minutemen begin their season down in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday against No. 8/6 Army at 12:30 p.m. in what is their first of a handful of games against nationally ranked opponents. UMass defeated Army 10-8 in last year’s season-opener. Saturday’s game will be streamed on ESPN-Plus.

Women’s lacrosse

Expectations are as high as they’ve ever been for the 12-time reigning regular season Atlantic 10 champion UMass women’s lacrosse team.

Coming off a 16-3 record and a spot in their third straight NCAA tournament, the Minutewomen are ranked 20th in the USA Lacrosse Preseason Poll. In the A-10 preseason poll, UMass (four first-place votes) was picked to finish second – just one point behind Richmond (six first-place votes). The Spiders beat the Minutewomen in last year’s A-10 title game.

UMass claimed all four of the major A-10 postseason awards last year and return A-10 Co-Offensive Player of the Year Fiona McGowan and A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Audra Tosone, both of whom were preseason All-Conference selections this season. McGowan is a Preseason USA Lacrosse Honorable Mention All-American.

Joining McGowan and Tosone as All-Conference selections are attacker Charlotte Wilmoth and midfielder Jordan Dean. UMass has a selection at each position on the field, showcasing the depth head coach Jana Drummond has in all phases of the game.

Last season, the Minutewomen finished the year ranked 11th among Division 1 teams in scoring defense, allowing just 8.95 goals per game. In correlation, they posted the nation's seventh-best win percentage.

With so much returning talent and a regular-season conference championship streak sitting at a dozen, UMass is once again going to be looked at as the top dog in the A-10 – despite being picked to finish second.

The Minutewomen’s first game is a big one, as they travel to Chestnut Hill to take on No. 2 Boston College on Friday at 4 p.m. with the opportunity to make a huge season-opening statement. Last year’s team dropped a 16-6 decision on the road at BC, which reached the national title game in 2023 before falling to Northwestern.

Softball

It was a tough season for the UMass softball team in 2023, as it finished with a 16-34 record – including a 7-18 mark in the Atlantic 10. And while some believe another rebuilding year is on the horizon for the Minutewomen (UMass was picked ninth out of 10 in the A-10 preseason poll), there is a clear chance to take some huge leaps this spring given some of the returning pieces.

UMass had only four seniors on last year’s roster compared to the eight it has this year. Two of those veterans are seniors Chloe Whittier and Bella Pantoja, who were the team’s top two hitters in a variety of categories in 2023. Whittier led the Minutewomen in batting average (.315) and on-base percentage (.426) and was second in total hits (47), while Pantoja was second in batting average (.305) and first in hits (50).

Both Whittier and Pantoja played all 50 games – the only two players to do so. Having them back is huge for the UMass lineup.

In the circle, junior Julianne Bolton is back and likely to be the ace after starting a team-high 18 games in 2023. She also had a team-high 27 appearances and a team-low ERA. Sophomore Natalee Horton pitched in 19 games and returns after winning a team-best six starts, and senior Jenna Bradley is another reliable arm back in the bullpen for head coach Danielle Henderson’s team.

UMass starts its season Friday morning at 10 a.m. against Radford for its first of five games this weekend at the Georgia Southern Tournament.

Baseball

Considering the Atlantic 10 baseball season doesn’t kick off for a couple more weeks, no preseason polls have been released as of Thursday. But because UMass managed a disappointing 14-35 record (6-18, A-10) a season ago, it’s likely that when the poll indeed comes out, the Minutemen are to be toward the bottom half of the conference.

Despite the low expectations, there is plenty for UMass baseball fans to be excited about. Under head coach Matt Reynolds, the Minutemen return three batters to their lineup that hit for an average of .300 or better, including sophomore Justin Blumenthal who batted .361 as a freshman in his 40 games played.

Alongside Blumenthal, senior Nolan Tichy is back after starting every game he appeared in. Tichy swung for a .326 batting average and blasted a team-high 12 home runs and .575 slugging percentage. Junior Carter Hanson (.302 batting average) also hit above. 300 a season ago, and was second on the team in home runs (nine) and slugging percentage (.509) behind only Tichy.

With three of the Minutemen’s top four hitters back and at the top of the lineup, they have some solid bats with plenty of experience to rely on this season.

In the bullpen, relief pitcher Mikey Jensen is back after posting the team low in ERA last year, and Renn Lints is again coming out of the pen after appearing in a team-high 18 games last year. Five of UMass’ six pitchers who started the most games last year are gone, with Max LeBlanc (second in ERA and strikeouts) being the lone returner.

UMass opens on Friday, Feb. 23 in the first of four games against Bucknell that weekend.