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May 8, 2017

Goals coming at a premium in A-10 play for Minutewomen

At this point in the season, wins are at a premium for the Massachusetts women’s soccer team.

After a 2-0 start in the Altantic 10 schedule, UMass promptly turned the other way, losing its last three conference games. Now five games remain before the start of the A-10 Championships, a four-day tournament that the Minutewomen aspired to make at the start of the season.

Improvement on its 2-4 conference record is a must if UMass (3-8-2 overall, 2-4 A-10) wants to secure a spot in the tournament. It all starts on Saturday, when the Minutewomen face Rhode Island at home on Rudd Field.

 UMass coach Angela Napoli realizes the gravity of both this game and the games to come.

“This game is very important. We’re still in position to make a run for the tournament,” Napoli said. “We need every point we can get in order to meet our goals. I think we’re prepared for Rhode Island; it should be a good, challenging game.”

Like UMass, Rhode Island (4-8-1 overall, 2-4 A-10 ) struggled finding consistent offense throughout the season. Opponents outscore the Rams, 30-16, and average 2.14 goals per game to the Rams’ 1.14.

Similar statistical categories tell a familiar story for UMass, as opponents outscore and outshoot the Minutewomen, 23-9 and 255-141, respectively.

Rhode Island is known for its aggressive style of play, and Napoli understands that her team needs to execute a mildly-altered defensive approach to stop the Rams.

“The Rams are very good at taking people on off the dribble. They like to go right at you and not pass as much,” Napoli said. “We have to keep our feet moving and play good team defense to contain them. Countering on their turnovers will be very important.”

Although much of UMass’ woes can be attributed to a floundering offense, there is still room to force that trend in the other direction. The Minutewomen are fairly consistent at creating scoring opportunities throughout this season, but finishing is their downfall.

UMass took its recent frustrations to the field and work-out rooms.

“They look good. Tuesday was a fitness day and the last two days they’ve been playing their guts out,” Napoli said. “They know we’re still in it and we have a legitimate shot. They have not been getting the results they expect, so this game will be a good opportunity to win and gain some momentum.”

Offensively, UMass currently relies on just two players to consistently show up on the stat sheet after games. Junior Sydney Stoll has nine points this year on four goals and one assist. Therese Smith, also a junior, has eight points on three goals and two assists. No one else on the roster has more than two points.

“It would just be nice to have an overall team effort,” Napoli said. “Our flanks need to get more involved in the scoring; they’ve been working hard but haven’t seen results.”

This season doesn’t boast immense offensive numbers from the Rams either, but unlike UMass, their scoring comes from multiple players. Eight people on their roster have at least three points, headlined by Alexis Veith and Ashley Evangelista, who both have seven points.

Rhode Island’s offense will have to deal with a dependent UMass defense and even more dependent goalkeepers. A hot topic this season has been the goalie situation for the Minutewomen, who initially split time between senior Lauren Luckey and freshman Emily Cota in net, but since have chosen to stick with Cota for entire games.

After being outscored 11-1 in its previous three matches, Napoli is now undecided about the resolution.

“Right now we’re looking at Emily to start the game,” Napoli said. “Whether or not she plays all 90 minutes we still have to decide.”

Nonetheless, this game symbolizes a start to the second half of the A-10 schedule for the Minutewomen; a half crucial in deciding who will make the tournament.

“Our goal of this game is to put in a full 90-minute effort,” Napoli said. “We’ve been starting a little flat so I want our players to come out and battle all the way through.”

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

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