It is the newness of it all, for everyone connected to the Huskies lacrosse team. The wins piling up, a national ranking, going into the conference postseason, and now going to the NCAA Tournament on Friday against UMass in College Park, Pa. On top of it all, this is finals week in the classroom.
“It factors into the preparation more than the actual game,” says head coach Katie Woods, who has transformed the lacrosse program in her third year leading the team. “Once we hit the road, we’ll be able to focus on us and the game. This is good. I’m excited to be one of the 26 teams in the tournament.”
The No. 18/19 Huskies (13-4) and No. 15/8 Massachusetts (17-2) have only one common opponent in 2013 — each defeated New Hampshire early in the season – and are among the Top 20 in RPI ranking, with UMass at No. 8 and UConn at No. 17. The last time the two teams met was in 2010 when the Huskies won 18-8, but overall the Minutewomen lead their historic competition, 5-3.
UMass is led in scoring by junior attacks Katie Ferris, who has scored 70 points on 47 goals and 23 assists, and Sam Rush, who has scored 69 points on 61 goals and 8 assists. Two sophomore goalkeepers, Rachel Vallarelli and Jamie Schiloski, have a combined goals against average of 9.66.
“I think UMass is a good rival,” Woods says. “A lot of the girls have friends on the team. I think our kids are excited to play someone who is a little bit of a rival but not on our schedule this year.”
Woods says playing its last four games against nationally ranked teams will help the Huskies this weekend, including the loss to No. 5/5 Syracuse in the Big East semifinals last Friday which provided the team with the experience of playing in a postseason environment. She expects her team to focus on the task at hand in Pennsylvania.
“There’s going to be some nerves, but once they settle in it’s just like any other game,” Woods says. “It’s an opportunity only 26 teams have. We want to enjoy the moment. That’s when we play our best lacrosse.”
However the Huskies fare in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Woods says the lacrosse program has crossed into new ground.
“We want to win. We want to be a top-level program. It’s helped that our girls have gotten recognition. It’s really great for the younger players and our recruits,” she says. “We’re creating a standard with our 2013 season.”
The honors for the Huskies continue to roll in. Following last week’s Big East recognition as Midfielder of the Year, on Tuesday junior Lauren Kahn ’14 (CLAS) was named to the All-Northeast Region First Team by the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association. Freshman goalkeeper Shannon Nee ’16 (CLAS) was also named to the First Team while junior midfielder Kacey Pippitt ’14 (CLAS) was selected to the Second Team.
When Breanna Stewart ’16 (CLAS), Morgan Tuck ’16 (CLAS) and Moriah Jefferson ’16 (CLAS) arrived in Storrs last year to join the women’s basketball team, they were heralded as among the most talented players in the nation. Each of their resumes included a history with USA Basketball.
Fresh off helping the Huskies to win their eighth NCAA Championship, the trio has been invited next week to be among 34 top players to try out for the USA Basketball U19 World Championship Team in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Stewart, the Most Outstanding Player in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, has four gold medals from previous USA Basketball Team world championships and in 2011 was the USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year when she was the only high school player who was a member of the 2011 USA Pan American Games Team.
Tuck and Jefferson were members of the 2012 USA FIBA U18 National Team that won the championship, allowing the USA Team to play in this year’s competition.
Stewart and Tuck were members of the USA U19 team that won the gold at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship.