UMass Dialing Up the Intensity, Dictating the Tempo on the Field


Senior attacker Haley Connaughton has 37 goals for the high-powered UMass offense.

After its 12-11 overtime loss to UConn on March 7, UMass hit the reset button.

That defeat to the Huskies dropped the Minutewomen to 1-2, the other loss being a double-digit one to Boston College five days before. They knew the potential of this season’s group, so they honed in on preparation and ramped up the intensity at practice.

It didn’t take long to see the results. UMass took down UConn in the rematch on March 13, this time with an overtime goal of its own to claim a 15-14 victory.

In the weeks since, the Minutewomen haven’t turned down the intensity. Behind one of the country’s top offenses and its leading draw specialist, UMass has tallied 12 straight victories, the program’s longest winning streak since 2017.

“The players have really elevated, as did the staff, in terms of just getting better and having a really positive growth mindset,” head coach Angela McMahon said. “They’re really working hard to just put us in the best possible position to have success.”

The Minutewomen have averaged more than 15 goals per game in each of the last five seasons, but their offense this year is one of the finest in school history. UMass currently scores 18.27 goals per game, the second-most in the country behind only No. 2 Northwestern, and it has six different players with at least 20 scores on the campaign.

A veteran trio sits atop the Minutewomen’s goal column — senior attackers Kelly Marra (42) and Haley Connaughton (37) and graduate midfielder Stephanie Croke (37) — but McMahon said this team’s greatest strength lies in its ability to find threats from all over the field.

UMass saw 14 players contribute on the offensive end in a 27-2 win over St. Bonaventure on April 23, a game that set the record for the most goals in school history, and averages the sixth-most assists per game (8.87) nationwide.

“All seven players that we have over the line, inclusive of defenders that we send over, we expect to be ready and confident to shoot,” McMahon said. “The level of buy-in is probably at an all-time high, where we’re just running and gunning. We want to push that transition game, and play that level of fast-paced, creative offense.”

It helps that the Minutewomen have arguably the strongest and most consistent draw specialist in the nation to jump-start that offense. Redshirt-senior attacker Caitlyn Petro currently leads the nation in both total (200) and per-game (14.29) draw controls and is only 24 draws away from the national record for most in a single season.

Petro has had the benefit of learning from one of the game’s best. She was a freshman when Hannah Murphy, one of the top draw specialists in NCAA history, was a senior at UMass in 2017. Murphy returned to Amherst as an assistant in 2020 and has since helped Petro master her craft, too.

“This is the year [Petro’s] had the greatest level of consistency, and it comes with the growth, but also the fact that she’s a fifth-year, the higher level of maturity and game experience,” McMahon said. “There’s a level of pride that comes with being a drawer at UMass. We’ve had some amazing drawers come through our program, and they really do want to just do whatever they can to give our team that success.”

The Minutewomen will enter this year’s Atlantic 10 tournament looking for their first postseason conference crown since 2017. They’ve advanced to each of the last two tournament title games, but fell to Richmond by one goal in overtime on both occasions. Both games were instant classics.

UMass didn’t play the Spiders in the regular season, but the two teams could meet in the conference tournament championship game once again. The second-seeded Minutewomen open up against Davidson on Friday, while Richmond has to take on Saint Joseph’s in the other semifinal.

“We’re not changing anything,” McMahon said. “We want to dictate the tempo and the play out there on the field, being very aggressive and playing with confidence. That’s what has gotten us here in the first place.”

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