It has been a tale of two seasons for the University of Richmond women's lacrosse team. After starting the season with a disappointing 3-7 record, the team has rallied to win seven of its last eight games and locked up a No. 1 seed in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament this weekend.
Head Coach Sue Murphy was pleased with the progress her young players made throughout the season.
"I have been impressed with so many of our players taking on new and challenging roles in starting roles as well as having more depth than in years past," she wrote in an e-mail. "Everyone's overall improvement from the beginning of the season is evident by our turnaround this year."
The tough out-of-conference schedule the Spiders played early on, including losses to Duke University, the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland, paid off as they went 6-1 in A-10 play.
"We obviously play that schedule so we are prepared for the post-season and that's obviously where we want to be," junior Mandy Friend said. "It's good just to be able to practice different defenses and different attacks and see what other schools are running."
Friend finished the regular season with a team-leading 86 points, setting a new single-season assist record with 35. She had six goals and three assists in the final game of the season against Saint Joseph's University on Sunday.
The Hawks jumped to a 4-2 lead before a rain delay sent both teams into the locker rooms to wait for the weather to clear. Head Coach Sue Murphy must have said the right things to motivate the team during the break, because the Spiders came out on a tear, scoring three goals in 35 seconds.
"I think the rain delay was the best thing that could have happened to us," senior defender Samantha Tract said. "We came out a little flat, but getting back in the locker room and just going over the game plan again really helped us."
Friend said things could have gone either way coming out of a break in the action like that, but said the focus on winning draw controls and ground balls had swayed the momentum in the team's favor.
"We kind of got a little upset at the way we were playing, because we felt like we were outplaying them," she said. "And we knew we were the better team, it just wasn't showing."
Four consecutive scores from Friend at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half put the game out of reach and Richmond went on to a 13-9 victory.
The team's five seniors -- Tract, Jenna Hubbard, Zara Nematollahi, Erin Kennedy and Claire Cunniff -- were honored during their last game at First Market Stadium. Richmond clinched its third consecutive A-10 regular season title with the win against Saint Joseph's. Richmond and Temple University both finished with 6-1 records in the A-10, but the Spiders received the number one seed based on the strength of their 11-10 overtime victory over the Owls on April 13.
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The Spiders will face off against the No. 4 seed and host of the tournament, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, this Friday at 1 p.m. No. 2 seed Temple will play Duquesne University later that day at 3:30 p.m. The championship game will be played at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The Spiders won their regular season match up with UMass 17-12 on March 28. The team ripped off 40 shots in the game, compared to only 26 by the Minutewomen, and juniors Lexie Marrocco and Allison Furstenburg each had five goals.
"We like playing a team the second time," Friend said, "because you can know their tendencies and see it on paper. But after really experiencing what the girls are like defensively, we feel like we control them a lot better and on attack we can make changes."
Murphy said the team would take things one game at a time with the knowledge they were playing for an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
Richmond will shoot for its fourthstraight A-10 championship title, which would tie the conference record set by Temple.
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