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Minutewomen face Huskies in rivalry match

Exhaustion is the word surrounding the Massachusetts field hockey team, as it creeps ever closer to Atlantic 10 conference play. Two non-conference games remain, and No. 6 Connecticut hosts the Minutewomen Friday night at 7 p.m.

UMass (9-3) won the first of its four-game road tilt when the Minutewomen beat Harvard (4-5) on a Makaela Potts penalty stroke on Tuesday.

In that game, UMass used two reserves and three in the game before that. Following its 5-2 loss to No. 6 Syracuse (11-1), in which the Minutewomen rested all reserve players, the UMass offense sputtered, scoring two total goals in its next two games – both against unranked opponents.

“We’re going to continue to battle our fatigue, and we have to stick to our game plan, without question,” UMass coach Justine Sowry said. “When we get fatigued, we make mistakes that we can’t afford to make. Eventually our luck will run out if we keep making those mistakes.”

Yet even with the offense tiring, The Minutewomen have totaled 31 goals in 12 games this season, as opposed to 26 through the same time span last season, when UMass finished 17-5 in its NCAA tournament season.

The Minutewomen faced the Huskies (11-1) much earlier in the 2008 season. At that point, UMass was 3-1 before UConn extended its undefeated streak to five with a 1-0 victory over UMass. In that game, then-freshman Alesha Widdall faced five Husky penalty corners in the first four minutes of the second half, including one of which that preceded the game-winning goal by UConn’s Katie Semanoff. It was the only time all season that an opponent shut out the Minutewomen.

In that contest, UMass had four penalty corners to the Huskies’ 11. This season, UMass is third in the A-10 with 76 penalty corners. However, opponents have totaled 110 corners against the Minutewomen. While defense is a strong aspect of UMass’ game, Sowry has a younger team and with the new self-hit rule put in place this season, the Minutewomen aren’t showing much patience on defense.

Given that UMass went to the NCAA tournament last season, Sowry has lofty goals for her team, regardless of collective experience.

“We have to go back to basic defensive principles and stay disciplined about it, regardless of the circumstances,” said Sowry. “Ultimately, our goal is to get to the NCAA tournament and go deep into it.”

The perfect opportunity to test the defense comes in Storrs, Conn. The Huskies have 52 goals this season, but Widdall and the Minutemen have held opponents to 1.23 goals per-game so far this season.

Forward Loren Sherer leads UConn with 19 goals, 10 assists this season, including six game-winners. Sherer comes to UConn from Durham University in England, where she is also a member of the U-21 national team. Sherer scored a point in each of the Huskies’ games this season, including six multi-goal games, three of which were hat tricks.

Sherer shares the forward line with Kim Kryzk and Allison Angulo, who have 10 assists apiece this season. Graduate student Andrea Mainiero has a 1.03 goals-against average and a .782 save percentage this season.

UConn has 286 shots on the season, outshooting opponents 3-1. The Huskies average four goals per-game this season, and opponents have given up 115 penalty corners against them. Compared to UMass’ 21, UConn’s 52 assists this season represent a team that has good ball movement. Thirty six of the Huskies’ 52 goals are first-half goals, so the Huskies are sure to pressure the Minutewomen immediately after the opening whistle. Given the individual scoring leaders, it’s likely that Sherer will see numerous touches in the game.

Mike Gillmeister can be reached at mgillmei@student.umass.edu.

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