For UMBC coach Don Zimmerman, this lacrosse season began to take shape on the very day in February when it seemed to all but fall apart.
The Retrievers had just suffered a demoralizing loss at Rutgers when their 15-year coach gathered his players in the locker room and asked them to speak their minds.
"We just kind of had an open forum," he said. "We had people stand up and say what they were feeling, and I think a lot of good things came out of it."
With a 16-5 win over outmatched Hartford yesterday, the No. 8 Retrievers not only gained their eighth straight victory - matching a school record at the Division I level - but also clinched first place in the America East Conference and the right to host next month's league tournament.
"Winning this game was huge," midfielder Taylor Marino said. "We get to stay in town, and we don't have to take the bus ride up north in two weeks. We get to play on our home field, where we're pretty good."
That may be an understatement.
UMBC (9-3, 4-0) has won 11 straight home games and 16 of the past 17, with the lone loss coming against top-ranked Johns Hopkins last season. Only Duke has won more consecutive games at home.
To extend that streak, the Retrievers dominated winless Hartford (0-12, 0-4) in nearly every aspect, building a 5-0 lead in the first quarter. That included the first career goal by senior Marino (St. Paul's), who won a faceoff, scooped the ball and took it the distance.
"People have been talking about it for three years now, how I haven't gotten one in there," said Marino, who won 12 of 17 faceoffs. "So I came down and had an opportunity today, and luckily I put it behind the goalie."
On Senior Day, however, it was freshman Bobby Stockton and sophomore Matt Latham who led the team with three goals each.
Zimmerman praised his team for its improvement since that February day in Piscataway, N.J.
"When you get to this point in the season, you've got to be hitting on all cylinders," Zimmerman said. "I don't know if we are yet, but I know that kids are trying, and that's the key."
Hartford 0 4 0 1 - 5
UMBC 5 2 4 5 - 16
Goals: H-Eustice 2, Nosworthy, Harris, Bryant; U-Stockton 3, Latham 3, Smith 2, Kimener 2, Kimbles, Scalzo, Marino, Burch, Jones, Scott. Assists: H-Bearse, Clough, Eustice; U-Wimer 3, Smith 2, Kimbles, Kimener, Stockton. Saves: H-McMahon 13; U-Blevins 5, Coker 2.