Stoll, Smith stepping up for Minutewomen this year
The Massachusetts women’s soccer team has more question than it does answers.
Although it’s currently on a five-game unbeaten streak and playing much better as of late, UMass coach Angela Napoli’s squad still has some obvious kinks it needs to work out.
The absence of a go-to scorer and a general lack of offense is forcing the team to grind out tough ties and victories through its current streak.
“Coming into the season, we knew we didn’t have a go-to scorer. That’s why we’ve been working hard on being more creative and setting up chances,” Napoli said. “No one on the team can consistently strike a great shot 30 yards out. Recently we’ve been getting breaks on flanks and finishing on some scoring opportunities.”
Redshirt junior Sydney Stoll has been a consistent offensive leader so far this year for UMass, logging two goals and an assist.
“Syd is permanent and she’s been the main scorer for us,” Napoli said. “She’s not scoring as many goals as she did her freshman and sophomore years because in those years she was a primary forward. Now, even in the midfield, she’s still able to get forward and find the back of the net.”
Stoll leads the Minutewomen with five points and eight shots on goal. Napoli believes junior forward Therese Smith has also played a key role for the offense.
“A lot of goals start with Therese Smith as she starts a lot of our opportunities,” she said.
Smith also has two goals on the season along with seven shots on goal, good for second on the team. Considering the top two scorers have two goals apiece in nine games this year, the Minutewomen will gladly take their 2-0 start in the A-10 schedule. But if UMass wants to achieve its goal of making the A-10 tournament, it needs more players to step up offensively.
“It really can be anyone on any day. Christina Adams and Lauren Yelinik are both improving and are capable of converting in the right situation,” Napoli said. “Lindsey DiOrio, though, when given some time and space, she can crack the ball. Out of everyone on the team, she strikes the ball the hardest.”
Until more players can consistently add to the attack, UMass will continue to count on its supreme defense and goaltending to win games. Napoli isn’t sure where her team would be right now without its defensive efforts.
“It would probably be a very long season,” she said, chuckling. “Emily and Lauren have been working their tails off all year in net and they’re a key reason to where we are right now.”
Napoli knows what the goalies have meant to the team’s 2-0 A-10 record, but she has seen consistent improvement from its main core of defenders as well.
“[Katie] Ruggles, [Jess] Howe, [Meghan] Gould, [Meghan] Collins, and [Kelsey] Anderson have been on defense for most games,” Napoli said. “They’re improving defensively and now getting forward as well. We’ve gotten a few shutouts this year, and not allowing the other team to score will increase our chances of winning twenty times.”
Opponents have averaged one goal per game against UMass thus far in the season. In addition to its statistical success, Napoli believes the defense affects more aspects of the game.
“The consistency of the defense also allows our forwards to relax a little bit,” she added. “We know we’re not going to need two or three goals to win a game.”
Perhaps the biggest part of the defense this year is the goalie position, where the UMass keepers have done a stellar job. Currently, freshman goalie Emily Cota ranks first on the depth chart, recently replacing senior Lauren Luckey.
“Right now Emily’s the starter because she can distribute the ball on her own,” Napoli said. “That allows us to have more players up field to win the ball. It’s a nice problem to have to have three goalies, including Katie Muller, that we can put in and not have to worry about goalkeeping.”
UMass looks to continue its five-game unbeaten streak today, when it travels to St. Louis to face the Billikens at 8 p.m.
“Saint Louis just came off a very tough loss against St. Bonaventure. With them returning home down 0-2 in the A-10, I think they’re going to come out and come out hard,” Napoli said. “Just like any other game, I like our chances, it just comes down to us.”
Steve Levine can be reached at email@example.com.