Lyons Sets Mark as UMass Wins A-10 Title
by Justin Feil | LaxMagazine.com
PHILADELPHIA – Richmond elected to faceguard UMass leading scorer Jackie Lyons, and see what the rest of the Minutewomen could do.
Jesse O’Donnell made sure UMass had plenty of offense by tying her career high with five goals, and Lyons still ended up with the UMass career points mark in a record-setting 16-12 win for the Minutewomen’s third straight Atlantic 10 championship Sunday in Philadelphia.
“It was a surprise to me,” said O’Donnell, the UMass junior attack. “It was one of my biggest games of the season, but that’s what we do for our seniors this year. We played really well.”
The tournament MVP, O’Donnell had scored five total goals in her previous four games combined, but with Richmond paying more attention to Lyons and the Minutewomen’s top goal scorer, Katie Ferris, O’Donnell took over the main scoring duties.
“They did a really good job of having other individuals step up,” said Richmond head coach Stephy Samaras Mantziaras, whose team also lost in last year’s final to UMass. “We knew that O’Donnell would be a great take from the top, but they just have girls that can step up. They have girls who are so athletic, they know the angles of the field, they know where defenders are sliding from and to, and I think that’s what makes them such a good team.”
UMass got goals from seven different players. Ferris and Tanner Guarino had three goals apiece. Lyons finished with just two goals on only four shots, but they were enough to establish a new UMass career record for the senior attack with 220 points.
“It’s an honor, but winning the A-10 championship was what I definitely wanted to do,” said Lyons, who passed the old mark of 219. “If we didn’t win, it means nothing. It means more that we won. It’s an honor to be recognized at UMass for that.”
She helped the Minutewomen open a 10-4 halftime lead, and Richmond never got closer than four goals in the second half after UMass opened a 10-goal lead midway through the second half. UMass (16-2) will host the MAAC champion Saturday in a play-in game to get into the main field for the NCAA tournament.
“We’re a gritty team,” Lyons said. “We get the draws, we get ground balls, and that’s what leads to our goals. We get good defensive stops. I’m excited for the next step, trying to get past the play-in game.”
UMass equaled its record-tying 16 goals from Friday’s semifinal win over Temple with 16 more against Richmond to establish a new championship scoring record of 32 combined goals, two more than Temple had in 2002. It was the most goals that UMass had ever scored against Richmond.
“What makes us such a dangerous team is the fact that we have so many offensive weapons,” said UMass first-year head coach Angela McMahon. “We have different people that can step up any given day. And today was Jesse’s day.”
UMass wouldn’t have been nearly as effective on offense without the possession given it by Nina Sarcona. She helped UMass finish with a 20-8 draw control advantage.
“Draw controls won us this game, hands down,” McMahon said. “Especially in the first half, where we were able to get the draw, go down and score, get the draw, go down and score. It’s really difficult to defend against.
“Nina Sarcona, she’s really the unsung hero of this team with her determination on the draws and her ability to place it where she wants it, and everyone else that works hard to make sure that ball’s ours. It goes back to our determination and focus on doing the little things.”
O’Donnell, scored her first three goals to help UMass build a 4-1 lead only 12 minutes into the game. Richmond clawed back with back-to-back goals from Gabi Wiegland midway through the half, but O’Donnell responded with her fourth goal for a 5-3 lead.
“I did think Jesse would have some good looks up top,” McMahon said. “With her speed, no one can mark her when she gets some space and dodges by her defender. Five goals, I don’t know if I would have thought that. But we’ll take it.”
Richmond switched a new defender to O’Donnell, and Haley Smith promptly scored to start a 6-0 UMass run that broke open the game.
“We’ve had games where 10 different people have scored,” O’Donnell said. “We have a very diverse and balanced team.”
Lyons broke through for her first goal of the game to give the Minutewomen a 7-3 lead. After goals by Katie Ferris and Tanner Guarino, Lyons got her second of the game to break the scoring record and build a 10-3 lead.
After Richmond came out strong to start the second half with goals from Hayley Ross and Wiegland, O’Donnell got back in the act when the junior tied her career high with her fifth goal to re-establish an 11-6 lead five minutes into the half.
The goal also started another 6-0 run for the Minutewomen. In the middle of the run was Katie Ferris’s third goal of the game, her 52nd of the season for a new UMass single-season record.
Almost completely overshadowed by UMass’s offensive prowess was its play at the other end of the field. UMass used its aggressive double-teaming defense to slow the Richmond attack through the first 45 minutes of play.
“They’re capable of putting on really quick runs,” McMahon said. “We knew they were capable of it, we just weren’t really sure when it was going to happen. Clearly, we saw that at the end of the game. Luckily, we gave ourselves a good enough cushion in the beginning and we were able to hold them off in the end.”
Richmond enjoyed better success late with the draw controls and forcing turnovers, and finished the game with six straight goals, but they came too late for a serious threat to UMass’ three-peat.
“I think we did a great job defensively in the second half,” Samaras Mantziaras said. “Against a team like this, you can’t fall down mentally or physically for any span of time.”