April 10, 2017

Field Day

Women’s lacrosse continues traditions—and invents new ones

It is a cold, bright March afternoon, and the crowd at Garber Field is freezing and roaring, when in sudden-death overtime, UMass women’s lacrosse senior Callie Santos buries the winning goal against UConn.

The team-built victory continues a proud legacy for the Minutewomen, current reigning Atlantic 10 champions with eight consecutive titles (the 1982 team won our first NCAA championship in any sport). The energy is a continuation of a much longer tradition.

“Despite its history, at the collegiate level, it’s still a young sport.”

Head Coach Angela McMahon

Lacrosse is an indigenous sport, rooted in North America. Onondaga, eastern Cherokee, Mohawk, Ojibwe, Choctaw, Huron, and Haudenosaunee First Nations played matches to settle disputes, to honor the Creator, and, sometimes, sheerly for fun. Jesuit missionaries first encountered lacrosse in the St. Lawrence Valley in the 17th century. Although initially condemning the violence of the game (and the traditions it was part of), European colonists were intrigued and began to modify and adopt the game.

Women’s lacrosse differs from the men’s game. There is no protective padding, only a mouth guard and goggles, and until recently, no contact—although that rule is changing: see recent practices with players barreling into Gilman blocking pads! Play begins with a “draw circle” in which two players use pressure between their sticks to flip the ball up in the air and the teams scrum to gain control of it.

What to look for on the field? For one thing, lacrosse is fast. It involves quick passes, deft hand-eye coordination, and incredible team communication. There is barely any pocket for the ball in the stick for the women’s game, so watch players’ “stick skills,” as they keep the ball cradled in the shallow pocket, at all angles, by centripetal force.

When Santos took up lacrosse in middle school, she was hooked: “I enjoyed the way you could possess the ball, the strategy behind all the different plays. It’s very organized in execution. It looks free-flowing, but everything is calculated,” she says.

Changes in lacrosse over the past decade alone, such as defined field boundaries and a shot clock—added just this past year—show it’s a constantly evolving sport. “Despite its history, at the collegiate level, it’s still a young sport,” says head coach Angela McMahon. “There have been drastic rule changes for the better that have made it a more accessible, viewable, exciting game.”

Women’s lacrosse is surging in popularity: NCAA play has grown from fewer than 20 teams in the 1980s to now hundreds of teams in three divisions, with new clubs beginning all the time.

Growing and adapting right along with their sport are the Minutewomen. The team is “very selfless,” with players having a “team-first mentality” and embracing “what is thrown at them,” says McMahon. “Everyone is accepting of each other,” agrees Hannah Murphy ’17, a midfielder on the Tewaaraton Award watch list for 2017 and a 2016 All-American. “It helps us continue our winning culture.”