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New team strategy in place under Napoli

With a new head coach and new team strategy already in place, the Massachusetts women’s soccer team is hoping new results will also come this season.

Former UMass head coach Jim Rudy announced his retirement in late-May. Two months later, former UMass standout goalkeeper and assistant coach, Angela Napoli received an offer to replace the 21-year coach.

Napoli said she will look to change the type of style the team plays this season to a more direct, upfield approach.

“Last year, I think our team got stuck where we were trying to ‘possess, possess, possess’ no matter where we were on the field,” Napoli said. “I would rather have us get a quick connection and everybody heading forward.”

After having a decent first half of the season last year, which included a stretch of three consecutive victories, the Minutewomen (6-9-3, 3-7-1 Atlantic 10 2008) lost their last five games in scoreless fashion.

To make matters worse, the graduation of Vanessa Patry leaves the Maroon and White without its captain and top offensive threat from last season. Patry led the team in a number of categories, including goals, assists, points and shots on goal.

Nevertheless, Napoli feels confident with the team heading into the start of the season. Her only concern: injuries.

“Everyone tells me I shouldn’t talk about injuries. It’s only going to be bad luck,” Napoli said. “After being here for four years, I know that no matter what, things are going to happen.”

The Minutewomen might have already lost two players for this season in Meghan Collins and Amanda Carvalho. Both will be recovering from ACL surgeries from the spring, so Napoli isn’t counting on seeing either on the field anytime soon. Alyssa Visconti was also diagnosed with mono in early August, but the time she will miss is still uncertain.

“It could be a problem for as short as a couple weeks, or it could be as long as six months,” Napoli said. “I’d rather be ready for the worst and be prepared, but if not then great.”

UMass suffered from significant injuries last year as well when redshirt junior Sydney Stoll suffered a knee injury during a spring game, which caused her to miss the entire season. Meghan Gould sat out the year with a concussion in addition to a previous ankle surgery. Both will be back this season, which will give a big boost to the offense and will bolster the strength of the team, the midfielders.

The weakness of the team will most likely be the youth. The back line will be fairly new and inexperienced. Napoli also feels the lack of height on the team could cause problems in the air game.

“We have some [players] who can head the ball very well, but they will be going up against taller competition.”

Napoli also mentioned that her team needs to play better against A-10 opponents. Throughout the first half of the conference schedule, UMass stayed in the hunt for a post-season berth. But after being outscored, 9-0, in the last five games of the season, it lost any chance it had of advancing.

“I feel like in the last couple years, we’ve done very well in non-conference play but then dipped in the A-10,” Napoli said. “I want to approach our non-conference play as building blocks for the games in the A-10.”

The A-10 is top heavy this season with teams like Charlotte, Dayton and Fordham. The 49ers were No. 25 in the nation last year and went undefeated with 11 wins in conference. After the top tier, there is a large group of teams in the middle of the pack that are going to be competitive. Napoli feels that the Minutewomen are poised to make a run for the A-10 Tournament for the first time since 1997.

“It will be a battle, and we’ll have to stay healthy. But with how the conference is set up, everyone has a shot every year.”

Despite low expectations, Napoli expects this team to surprise the conference.

“I think our kids have a lot of desire to prove themselves this year,” Napoli said. “People are going to underestimate us, and our kids are fine with that because they want to show we’re better than people think.”

Jay Asser can be reached at jasser@student.umass.edu.

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