VCU Makes History with UMass Upset, Creates Chaos in the Atlantic 10

VCU ATHLETICS

Sky Hyatt led VCU to its overtime win over UMass with a team-high six goals.


With 60 straight games won against Atlantic 10 competition, it was assumed that Massachusetts’ biggest hurdle to extending its NCAA record streak would be getting by that team from Richmond.

No, not the Spiders. The VCU Rams.

The streak stretched back nearly 3,000 days to April 2010. It finally came to an end because third-year program VCU (7-9, 5-3 Atlantic 10) broke the hex and took down the Minutewomen (12-4, 7-1 Atlantic 10), by the score of 17-16 on Sunday.

Here’s how remarkable the victory was.

Massachusetts started the streak six years before the Rams’ program even existed. Plus, UMass had won 12 more games (61) than VCU had ever played as a program (49) before Sunday’s stunner.

The Atlantic 10’s newest program seemed one of the least likely teams to knock off UMass for the first time in eight years. As coach Jen O’Brien explained, their inexperience was why they were the perfect team to pull off the upset of the year.

“Being new, we didn’t have any preconceived notions of doing anything in conference against [UMass],” O’Brien said. “I think it takes a little bit of naiveté. We didn’t look at that streak for eight years. We’re young. We’re not too familiar with the history of the A-10, so [we] didn’t have it in our heads.”

Many things aligned for well for VCU when it comes to scheduling. The Rams hosted Senior Day for its first class that made the program, playing their third home game in four outings. Conversely, UMass was on the road for its fourth straight game, the third of which was an emotional 17-13 win over Richmond, which was also undefeated in A-10 play at the time.

What didn’t seem to align for VCU was a stinging 13-12 loss to La Salle, which broke a four-game winning streak and put the team’s chances at an A-10 Tournament berth in peril. To O’Brien, who was made well aware of UMass’ record streak by her husband Steve, her good feelings that had permeated for weeks persisted.

“It wasn’t just the game [on Sunday],” O’Brien said. “It’s been a feeling we’ve had the past few games. It’s an increased level of confidence our players have demonstrated that we hadn’t seen out of them yet. I think that it’s just very weird and eerie to look at each other and say, ‘We’re going to do that,’ and all the heads are nodding back.”

The Rams jumped from the opening draw, scoring three goals in the first four minutes. Despite UMass righting the ship to score 14 of the next 20 goals for a five-goal margin with 20 minutes to play, it was VCU that turned up the intensity.

Sparked by a four-goal spurt from leading scorers Sky Hyatt and Molly Barcikowski, Clare Murphy polished off a 7-1 run with 21 seconds left for what seemed to be the stunning game-winning goal.

Then UMass scored with one second left.

Overtime.

VCU ATHLETICS

Molly Barcikowski jumps for joy, celebrating her game-winning goal against UMass in VCU's 17-16 overtime victory.

VCU was tasked to play its fourth straight game to be decided by a goal, and the Rams had some history on their side.

“We had a lot of confidence from our last overtime game against Davidson,” said O’Brien. “We knew we could do this. I don’t know if it’s false confidence, that we’re all in this, and we’re gonna get this done. It’s sort of fake it until we make it. It has worked out for us.”

The previous week, Barcikowski poured in the overtime winner at Davidson that gave VCU its fourth straight conference win after a disappointing 0-2 start to A-10 play. On Sunday, she reprised the winning role by connecting on her free-position chance to seal the program’s most impressive victory.

“I knew [she was going to make] it.” O’Brien said. “You know every day what you’re getting from her. She comes to practice, she’s quiet and ready to go. She’s cool, and steady and relaxed. You know she’s going to get the job done.”

Barcikowski’s seven points on five goals and two assists were one better than Hyatt’s six, which were all scored by goal. Hyatt, one of the four seniors honored in pregame ceremonies, also pulled down a team-high five draw controls on a day where UMass’s Kiley Anderson grabbed 12 of the Minutewomen’s 25 controls.

VCU’s defense was under constant pressure as UMass launched 45 shots, 17 of which were saved by junior Ria Peralta. What aided VCU’s upset bid was Peralta’s vision in leading the team’s breakout and her team’s ability to clear, going 24-for-28 on the afternoon.

“The timing of her saves was even more important than the number that she made,” O’Brien said of Peralta. “She’s super fiery. She makes saves that she shouldn’t make and launches a really good clear.”

As for Hyatt, she rose to an occasion that her coach said was once too much for her.

“She’s very self-aware,” O’Brien noted. “Before [this year,] she got tight when she realized she was nervous, whereas [Sunday] she recognized it and used [the nerves] to play it like every other game. That maturity factor was important.”

A single regular season match against in-state foe George Mason remains before the Atlantic 10 Tournament, which is being hosted across town at the University of Richmond. O’Brien will remind her team that Sunday’s game, while significant, is not a defining victory.

“We have to appreciate that this is a big step and milestone for what it is,” O’Brien said. “We can’t push our luck too much if we want to see improvement. Another win is important. We want to achieve more. We still have things to accomplish and that means making noise in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. If not this year, maybe next year.”







THE WEEK THAT WAS

Chalk Wins Out

It was a quiet week in terms of upsets. From last Tuesday on to today, there were 22 games featuring teams ranked in last week’s Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Women's Top 20, and in all 22 instances, the favored team won. A notable unranked upset was Albany’s 10-7 win over Notre Dame that all but ended the Fighting Irish’s at-large hopes.

Upset Avoidant in the Big East

Florida topped Denver to secure the Big East regular season title once again. For Florida, it keeps the Gators in line for a top six seed in the NCAA Tournament while denying Denver a key win to get it on the right side of the bubble. Meanwhile, the Hoyas avoided a Senior Day disaster against Marquette in a 9-8 overtime win. The Gators and Hoyas hold the top two seeds in next week’s Big East Tournament.

We Have MAACtion

The wildest conference title chase lies in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference where five teams lay claim to the top spot at 5-2 with a single game remaining to play. Fairfield, Marist, Canisius, Niagara and Monmouth own identical records and spots in the MAAC Championship. There’s potential that four of those teams will remain tied pending Wednesday’s game. Feel free to get a head start on the tie-breaking scenarios.

Ohlmiller Sets Pair of Records

Kylie Ohlmiller’s fantastic season continued in a 22-7 win over UMBC. She broke a 17-year-old record for career points as well as a nine-year-old record for career assists. Ohlmiller finished with eight points on two goals and six assists. 

MID-WEEK GAMES TO WATCH

Penn State at Stony Brook (Today, 4 p.m.)

This afternoon’s clash for the unbeaten Seawolves presents the last real challenge of the season before the NCAA Tournament. Penn State is playing its third straight game against a Top 10 team.

Loyola at Georgetown (Wednesday, 3 p.m.)

The former Big East lacrosse rivals meet with both teams playing well of late. Georgetown has won six straight and a win over Loyola would boost the Hoyas into a lock position for the NCAA Tournament. The Greyhounds have won 12 of their last 13, with the lone stumble coming April 5 against Syracuse, 12-11.

Canisius at Niagara (Wednesday, 7 p.m.)

A Western New York rivalry will produce at least one of a possible four teams to win the MAAC regular-season trophy. Canisius has won the last 14 meetings with the Purple Eagles, who last won in the series on April 12, 2004.

Penn at Princeton (Wednesday, 7 p.m.)

Princeton needs a win to feel better about its at-large chances (currently projected to be out). On the flip side, Penn needs another win to close in on an Ivy League title, host the Ivy Tournament and solidify itself as a top eight seed for the NCAA tournament.

ACC Tournament Quarterfinals (Thursday, hosted by Duke)

No. 1 Boston College vs. No. 8 Louisville, 11 a.m.
No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 5 Notre Dame, 2 p.m.
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 7 Syracuse, 5 p.m.
No. 3 Virginia Tech vs. No. 6 Duke, 8 p.m.

Pac-12 Tournament First Round (Thursday, hosted by Colorado)

No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 California, 3 p.m. ET
No. 3 USC vs. No. 6 Arizona State, 6 p.m. ET

Northwestern at Maryland (Thursday, 7 p.m.)

For the fourth straight year, the final Thursday night game of the Big Ten season is a regular-season title match. Northwestern is looking to foil Maryland’s winning ways. The Terps have yet to lose a regular season Big Ten game. The Wildcats last beat the Terrapins in 2012.

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