UMass women’s lacrosse appreciates opportunities NCAA Tournament presents

  • The UMass women's lacrosse team is charging into the NCAA Tournament as winners of 14 straight games. The Minutewomen will face Temple at 4 p.m. Friday in Chestnut Hill. UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2021 3:26:36 PM

Finals week just wrapped up, but now the real test awaits the UMass women’s lacrosse team.

The Minutewomen will face Temple at 4 p.m. Friday in the first round of the NCAA Division 1 Tournament in Chestnut Hill. The winner gets either host and No. 4 overall seed Boston College or Fairfield at 1 p.m. Sunday.

UMass is fresh off its first Atlantic 10 Championship since 2017, the last time the Minutewomen qualified for the NCAA Tournament. There are five players from that team still on the roster because they returned for a fifth year this season after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled last year — Caitlyn Petro, Kaitlyn Cersei, Stephanie Croke, Lauren Hiller and Emma Dotsikas.

“We’ve leaned a lot on them in terms of leadership, production on the field but also being really great teammates and great connectors,” UMass coach Angela McMahon said. “They won the A-10 championship as freshmen. To have them come back in their fifth year and win another championship is awesome. We’re trying to extend the season as long as we can and keep this group together because it’s a really special group.”

They have the nation’s second most potent offense, scoring 18 goals per game. Northwestern leads the country averaging 20.62 goals per game. Seniors Haley Connaughton (79) and Kaitlyn Cerasi (72) have both tallied more than 70 points. Four players have scored at least 40 goals.

“When we get the opportunities to push the pace for our offense, that’s when we really shine,” McMahon said. “If it does get into a steady game, we have some of the best players out there offensively that can put the ball in the back of the net.”

UMass (15-2) gets more opportunities to score than any team in the country thanks to senior attack Caitlyn Petro, who leads the NCAA in both total draw controls (220) and draw controls per game (13.75). She’s already set UMass’ single-season record and is just four away from the NCAA single-season record. Marist’s Hailey Wagner had 224 in a full season in 2019.

“When (Petro) was tasked back in her sophomore year with learning how to draw, she’d never taken the draw before. At first she was like ‘what are you guys thinking here?’” McMahon said. “It shows so much about her in terms of her drive and wanting to be the best she can possibly be in the draw unit. She really takes a beating because she’s so good that she’s really vulnerable to getting hit and fouled and people coming after her. This year, specifically, she’s grown in her maturity and being able to handle that kind of pressure. Early in her career there’d be a lot of turnovers when she gets that kind of pressure. Now she handles it with ease.”

Temple (12-5) will bring a level of physicality and competition the Minutewomen haven’t seen in months. UMass has won its past 14 games by an average margin of 9.93 goals per game. The Owls reached the American Athletic Conference championship game before falling 19-4 against Florida. Meghan Hoffman leads Temple with 63 points and 42 assists, while Bridget Whitaker has scored 41 goals. Four players have more than 45 draw controls.

The teams haven’t met since 2013 when Temple was an A-10 foe.

“Bonnie Rosen, she’s one of the best coaches in the game. She just has really gotten her team to a really good spot. They work hard. It’s that true Philly style of grinding,” McMahon said. “That’s the type of style we bring to the table, too. I think it’s going to be a great, physical battle.”

The Minutewomen tested themselves early in the season with three games against NCAA tournament teams: a March 2 loss at then-No. 11 BC and a home-and-home series with UConn, where the teams split overtime wins.

“You learn a lot of lessons when you lose. Losing can really teach you a lot and that’s exactly what it did. It exposed us in certain ways and allowed us to identify what we needed to improve on,” McMahon said.

UMass’ fifth-year seniors led the way as the Minutewomen rampaged through the A-10 schedule and returned to the NCAA Tournament. They understand the privilege and opportunity in front of them.

“We’re so lucky we get to do this. That level of gratitude that they have this opportunity to compete and to be with their 30 best friends just having a good time playing lacrosse and trying to make a run here in the NCAA tournament,” McMahon said. “It’s all good, positive stuff.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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