AMHERST -- The University of Massachusetts women's lacrosse team has risen to 10th in the nation, and Berkshire County resident Megan Newton has had a front-row seat watching that rise.
That's because the Miss Hall's School graduate is a freshman defender on the 13-1 Minutewomen.
"I've definitely learned so much," said Newton, when asked about learning by watching rather than playing. "Especially with the senior class that's here. They're really great, talking to you and helping you along.
"It's definitely been a learning experience for me and so far; it's been great."
Newton, who grew up in the Berkshire section of Lanesborough, first picked up a lacrosse stick in the fifth grade at Pine Cobble School and then played at Miss Hall's. At Pine Cobble, everyone is required to play a sport, and Newton chose lacrosse.
The defender played in her fifth game on Sunday, a 22-2 thrashing of Atlantic 10 Conference foe George Mason. Newton played the final five minutes in a game where the Minutewomen scored 17 goals in the first half. There are nine freshmen on the UMass team, and Walker is one of seven who have played fewer than 10 games.
"She's so disciplined. She's a really hard worker. She's eager to learn," UMass coach Angela McMahon said. "All the attributes you need to really be successful here."
As lacrosse is a newer sport in Berkshire County, Newton wasn't exactly on UMass' radar screen. After all, the Minutewomen are one of the top Division I lacrosse teams in the northeast and one of the better teams in the nation. In just four years at the helm, McMahon is second in UMass history in career wins (66) and tops in winning percentage (.884). The Minutewomen have been ranked in the top 20 for 42 consecutive weeks.
Newton said that UMass wasn't at the top of her list. She had been looking at some NESCAC colleges along with Division I Boston College and Boston University before settling into UMass.
"It just kind of worked out and I had the best shot here," she said. "I definitely wanted to see if I could play somewhere, but school definitely came first."
McMahon said she knew Newton was planning to come to UMass, as the defender reached out to the coaching staff during her senior year and asked if there were any tryout or walk-on positions available.
"We encouraged her to come to a summer camp that we have, so that not only could we have a chance to see her a little bit," McMahon said, "but for her to see the general level of play and what we're like as coaches.
"She came to the camp and we offered her the opportunity to try out in the fall. We told her what the expectations were. She worked really hard and came in ready to go."
McMahon said that a player like Newton sticking around from a walk-on or a tryout happens every couple of years.
The Minutewomen won their first nine games before losing to then seventh-ranked North western on March 25. North western has won seven NCAA Division I titles. Since that loss, UMass is 4-0 and has outscored the opposition 79-20.
"We lost to Northwestern by four and that's huge. They're a great team and they're probably going to make it to the Final Four," Newton said. "Just to see what [UMass] has been doing this year has been amazing."
Next year, she won't be the only Newton on the roster. Her twin sister, Mary, who is finishing a post-graduate year at Northfield Mount Hermon, will join her on the UMass roster.
"I definitely hope that more people represent from the Berkshires," Newton said. "We can get more support there and get more girls and guys playing at bigger levels.
"It's been a great experience so far."
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