(Photo Courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)
Since the program’s first season in 2015, there have been a few things that we’ve learned about UMass Lowell. First, winning is possible at UMass Lowell. Secondly, that winning might not last long at all.
In their first season as a program, the River Hawks went 1-13 and their only win came against fellow newcomer NJIT. They followed that inaugural season up by going 4-12 in 2016 and 2017. And while all of their wins came against perennial bottom feeders, they did beat defending America East champion Hartford in 2017 to secure their first conference win in program history.
And while they certainly showed progress in those first three seasons, it was 2018, their fourth season in program history, where they really popped off. Led by the first full class in program history, the River Hawks went 8-8 overall, 3-3 in the America East, and gave eventual NCAA semifinalist UAlbany a run for their money in the first round of the conference tournament.
Since that historic 2018 season the River Hawks have gone down once again, but not too far down. They went 5-9 overall, 2-4 in conference, in 2019 and before the 2020 season was cancelled they were 3-4 and had just ended their second two-game losing skid of the season.
The question now coming into the 2021 season is what will this squad do? Will they fall even more? Will they continue to hover around that 5-win mark? Or will the rollercoaster go up once again and reach the peak of this next hill? It is plausible to suggest that any of the three aforementioned situations will take place this upcoming season, based on what we’ve seen this program be in the past – which is much more recent than some other more established programs looking to go up again.
Personally, I like to believe that the perpetual River Hawks’ rollercoaster could in fact go up again this season. Now does that mean an America East Tournament berth? Maybe and also maybe not. But they could certainly improve to around the .500 mark, which would likely mean 7-8 wins. Now, that could change due to the Coronavirus outbreak, but we’re still four months away from the start of the season so who really knows.
But the one thing for certain is what this team did last season and the talent that they bring back. In 2020, outside of their losses at Boston U. and Dartmouth, they only lost by an average of 1.5 goals. And that includes an overtime loss against what could’ve been the most talented Holy Cross team ever and a two-goal loss to CAA power UMass. That loss margin against two talented teams is very telling to many and shows that there is indeed enough talent on this squad to compete regularly.
Ranked as the 39th-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing 11.75 goals per game, last season, the River Hawks graduate their top pole from a year ago in Cam Hult. However, they do return two full-time starters on the back end in Eric Flynn (21GB/12CT) and Richard Cameron (8GB/4CT), who will be back for a fifth season. The duo headline a close defense unit that is much more on the younger side and should see some all-around improvement in 2021.
In cage, both Hunter Braun and Matt Murakami return. Braun played and started in four games and churned out a 47% save percentage, while Murakami played and started in three games and posted a 57% save percentage.
Offensively, the River Hawks return four of their top five starters of a pretty youthful group. Sophomore Connor Foley (10G/13A) led the team in points last season and is expected to be running things at attack once again. Senior and junior midfielders Kyle LaForge (10G/6A) and Dakota Clark (10G/3A) are their top two returning midfielders and look to take another step after being full-time starters for the first time last season.
Attackmen/midfielders Jake Linning and Issac Bot should get some more runs in this coming season after being key role players last season, each tallying 11 points (7G/4A) and making multiple starts.
At the faceoff dot, the River Hawks return Liam McDonough. He went 52-for-107 (49%) at the dot last season and has been their main faceoffman over the past two seasons.