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Napoli still has faith in slumping Cota

After appearing to be nearly unstoppable in her first eight appearances, Massachusetts freshman goalkeeper Emily Cota is currently in the first rough patch of her blossoming career.

The Green Lane, Penn., native has struggled as the Minutewomen’s soccer team (3-8-2, 2-4-0 Atlantic 10) press on to the second half of their conference schedule. Prior to conference play, she allowed three goals in seven games. However, after shutting out St. Joseph’s (6-5-3, 3-2-1) and Duquesne (3-9-0, 0-5-0) in 135 minutes of action, her struggles have greatly increased over the past two weeks in games against top offensive competition.

In a tough weekend at Saint Louis (6-6-2, 3-2-1) and Charlotte (11-2-1, 5-0-1), Cota allowed four goals in back-to-back games, with UMass being shut out in each.        She then followed up those efforts over the weekend by allowing three goals in consecutive games against La Salle (8-5-2, 2-3-1) and Fordham (4-10-1, 3-3-0). Over that four-game span her save percentage plunged from an Atlantic 10-leading .909 to .773.

Following the loss to Charlotte, UMass coach Angela Napoli still had faith in Cota.

“I don’t think the last couple of games were decided by the goalies,” said Napoli.  “La Salle is a tough team. She played fine and saved everything she could have. The goals more or less came from the run of the play and there were some let downs on the field and some good finishes by the opposing players.”

Despite her recent struggles, Cota leads the A-10 with 58 saves, with La Salle junior Melissa Sanger and Xavier senior Kelly Farrell tied for second with 57. She is also 10th in save percentage, seventh in saves per game (4.83) and has one shutout.

Waiting in the wings is Lauren Luckey, who has already proven to be more than capable at holding things down on the defensive end.

After starting the first eight games in net for the Minutewomen, the senior has not seen any action since being taken out at halftime versus St. Joseph’s. In those eight games, she allowed six goals in 405 minutes and compiled a record of 1-2-0. At one point, her .838 save percentage placed her in the top 10 in the conference, but she no longer has enough minutes to qualify.

She opened the season on a shaky note after allowing two goals to both Holy Cross and Boston University. She responded by allowing a total of two goals over her next six appearances, including a combined shutout with Cota against New Hampshire in a double-overtime tie on Sept. 13.

In her first season as a starter, Luckey played every minute of the 2008 season and finished top 10 in the conference in several categories including goals-against (sixth), save percentage (second), and saves per game (seventh). She also recorded five shutouts.

“It’s not exactly who is in goal, but we need to make tweaks with other players,” Napoli said. “This week in practice, we will look at the goalies again and reassess the situation.”

Cota, Luckey and the Minutewomen are back in action on Saturday afternoon as they host Rhode Island (4-8-1, 2-4-0) in the final leg of a three-game home stand.

Mike Mastone can be reached at mmastone@student.umass.edu.

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