Eipp Leads Transfer-Bolstered UMass Within Winning Culture
After transferring to Massachusetts following her freshman campaign at Louisville, attacker Erika Eipp allowed her actions to do most of the talking in her first two seasons with the Minutewomen.
"She was very quiet," recalled UMass coach Angela McMahon. "She hardly talked at all. It was fine. She needed to have that experience of learning and figuring out the way we do things."
Eipp needed a change and found the perfect fit at No. 18 UMass, a sometimes overshadowed program not too far from her hometown of Townsend, Mass.
"When I came back to look at UMass after Louisville, it was just the culture of the team and the family atmosphere, and the dynamic of the whole athletics here [that] welcomed me and wanted me to be a part of it," said Eipp, now a senior. "I definitely think my transition here was easy. The girls really welcomed me in. Even the first couple days, I felt like I was part of the team forever. I was definitely a little shy, on the quiet side. As the weeks went on, I definitely think I warmed up."
It wasn't hard for Eipp to embrace an environment that has made UMass one of the winningest programs in the country. They have opened the 2016 season at 5-1, and over the last five years, only defending national champion Maryland has recorded more wins. From 2011 through March 13, 2016, the Terps boast a 92.5 percent win percentage, while the Minutewomen slightly trail at No. 2 with 88.1 percent.
"We've seen the teams before us and the winning culture we've had," Eipp said. "We just want to go beyond that and show that we can do more than we have in the past."
Eipp is one of the bevy of transfers that has UMass eyeing more success. After Eipp came in 2014, junior midfielder Sarah Crowley arrived last year from Virginia, and this year, the Minutewomen welcomed sophomore Kiley Anderson (Boston College), redshirt sophomore Hannah Burnett (Florida), sophomore Alex Flobeck (Cincinnati) and sophomore Bella O'Connor (Florida), two of them after the fall semester.
"I definitely think that they bring sparks to our offense," Eipp said. "We have seven attackers that can start on any given day, including them. It brings such a huge chemistry and dynamic to our offense. I think it makes us ultimately unscoutable because we have so many threats in our offense that they brought to us."
While the Minutewomen have never had this many transfers on one team, UMass is happy to be a landing spot for them.
"Whether it's word of mouth or having recruited them in high school and having a good recruiting process with them, they tend to reach out," McMahon said. "It has worked. We've had some great kids to come in. We've been really fortunate through whatever reason that they came to us.
"We're always open for it," she added. "Whether it's a transfer or someone who might have a fifth year of eligibility and wants to go to grad school. The passion, energy and excitement that a transfer has is fantastic. For me, it's the more, the merrier."
Even McMahon was a transfer herself. She left UMass to play her final three seasons at Northwestern in the early 2000s, where she was a two-time captain of the team that advanced to the 2004 NCAA quarterfinals her senior year after the program regained varsity status in 2002. She had laid a foundation for success as the Wildcats went on to win the next five national titles.
"I know exactly what it's like," said McMahon, now the winningest coach at UMass in just her sixth season after surpassing Hall of Fame coach Pam Hixon, whose 1982 team won the first NCAA championship. "It does help a little bit, more so with the logistical aspect. It's a tricky process. There's a lot you have to do. It's sometimes nerve-wracking. I think a lot of schools hold transfers to higher standards. It's nerve-wracking to tell a coach that you don't want to play there anymore. I can relate to them in the process, but more so the key is players are attracted to the culture of our team. I think we have a nice positive family-like environment."
McMahon's own family aids that feeling. Players visit her house to hang out or play with her two young kids, who frequently attend practices and games. Her husband, Justin Serpone, visits UMass practices fresh off coaching the nearby Amherst College men's soccer team to the national championship.
"We're all connected," McMahon said. "He'll talk to the team and give them some leadership and pump-up talks sometimes. We're creating a really positive environment where everyone feels they can be who they are and pursue what they want to pursue because we have so many great majors. Amherst is a great college town."
This year, the Minutewomen also welcomed Rebekka Sverrisdottir, a senior who played on their women's soccer team and is trying lacrosse for the first time.
"She's awesome," McMahon said. "She's an athletic freak. She's winning every single run test, every sprint. We found a role in potentially doing some faceguard on some players because she's so quick and athletic, and it's working out."
Overall Winning Percentage (2011 through games on March 13, 2016)
Players come to UMass with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Eipp left Louisville after starting 13 of 14 games in which she played as the Cardinals' fourth-leading scorer in 2013. Her studies were going well too, but the fit wasn't quite right on the field for the then-freshman.
"Lacrosse is still my favorite thing," Eipp said. "Being happy with lacrosse was a huge reason I wanted to transfer."
In her first year at Massachusetts, Eipp took more of a back seat as the third-leading scorer for an offense that was led by Katie Ferris. Then last year, after Ferris graduated, Eipp took over with a team-high 75 points on 45 goals and 30 assists. Eipp is at it again, leading the Minutewomen with 28 points on 14 goals and 14 assists, but she wants to lead with more than just her play.
"Even until this year, I don't think I fully had the confidence in myself," Eipp said. "I think the team helped me get out of my shy trait that I had. They really welcomed me and tried to get me out of my little shell. I think it was just me being so hard on myself and not giving myself any slack, which really made me quiet."
McMahon believes that UMass has done well with understanding how to help their new players and who can help. She wants players to come for the right reasons, and they have to be the right type of player – the sort of gritty player who doesn't mind working hard in frosty New England weather.
"Part of the piece of determining if it's a good fit is looking at the personality and are they going to fit in with the team, what's their work ethic like and what are their expectations coming in?" McMahon said. "Fortunately, all of the transfers that we've had come in have said, 'I just want to be a part of something special. I'm willing to contribute in any way, shape or form that you need me to.' They're really good kids. As a coach, it's hard to say no to someone who's going to be a great teammate, great personality and going to work hard. They hope to play, but they don't necessarily come in with expectations to."
"I think it's such a unique experience and perspective that they come in with," McMahon added. "For whatever reason, it didn't work out, so they appreciate what they have now. They make the most out of their opportunities. It helps push the level of play because they're so happy to be there and they want to work so hard. They want to work so hard to fit in and contribute to the team. All of them have done so quickly and immediately."
The additions this year make the Minutewomen deeper than usual, and that's allowed them to be more aggressive at both ends, McMahon said. UMass plays at Michigan on Friday and after hosting Albany on Mar. 23, they look to continue their stranglehold on the Atlantic-10.
"Every single person on this team wants to be successful and I think everyone is all in for what we're trying to do, which I think is different from past years," Eipp said. "I think that's a big piece to being successful."
The Minutewomen will take a national record tying 36-game regular-season conference winning streak into their first A-10 game at St. Joseph's on Apr. 1. They have won the last seven A-10 titles, and they want more than another conference crown this year.
"Just the concept of not settling for just an A-10 championship or going to the first round of the tournament is different," Eipp said. "This team wants to show we can do more than that. We're working so hard to go farther and we want to just go as far as we can."
Massachusett's only loss this season was a 9-8 setback at No. 16 Boston College on Mar. 2, but they rebounded by knocking then-No. 20 UConn from the Top 20 and the ranks of the unbeaten last Saturday in dominant 15-6 fashion. Eipp had four goals and an assist.
"She's one of those players, the higher pressure the situation, the better she plays," McMahon said. "She was very quiet when she came in. It took a while for her to feel comfortable and be more vocal and communicate more. As she went on, she accepted that leadership role a little bit more. Now she's not quiet. She's silly and jokes around and loves to do great celebrations with her teammates after goals."
"She's one of our captains" she added. "She is one of the hardest workers on the team. She's always doing extra work. She'll do everything to anything to make herself better, but in her mind, she's making herself better so she can make her team better."
Eipp found the perfect fit in UMass' supportive environment that fostered a new home and plenty of success.
"I wouldn't change anything," Eipp said.
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