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Penalty corners, team health to decide UM’s games in Philadelphia

fhockBFamiliarity plays a big role when breaking down opponents. It’s common sense that knowing an opponent’s tendencies makes them an easier team to beat.

The No. 10 Massachusetts field hockey team is 16-1 against Atlantic 10 Conference opponents since UMass coach Justine Sowry became head coach and 7-7 in the conference in the two years prior.

Against Temple and Saint Joseph’s in particular, the Minutewomen (9-4) are 1-1 and 4-0, respectively, in the past two seasons.

When UMass faces the Owls (4-10, 0-1 A-10) and the Hawks (4-7, 1-0 A-10) this weekend in Philadelphia, Penn., Sowry knows one thing; a win won’t come easy against either team.

“Philadelphia teams, they’re fighters,” Sowry said. “We’re expecting a tough contest in both games. It’s going to be physical and both teams pounce on mistakes.”

One of the most glaring areas of concern for the Minutewomen is allowing penalty corners. So far this season, opponents have 125 penalty corners against UMass while Temple allowed 92 and SJU 104.

Gaining penalty corners against either team is another story.

In the Philly series last season, the Minutewomen held the penalty corner advantage 31-14. UMass outscored the Hawks 7-0 in two games combined last season, including a hat trick by junior captain Katie Kelly, who leads UMass with six goals and one assist this season.

The Minutewomen have a strong penalty corner unit this season, led by defender Makaela Potts. Potts frequently takes the shot off the push and has five goals, six assists this season.

However, UMass can only hope to win this weekend if it can field a team to play. The Minutewomen allowed four goals in the first half this season as opposed to 12 in the second half and lost both overtime games they played in so far this season. Opponents forced 72 corners in the second half of games this season, four fewer than UMass’s season total so far.

“I think in general, our small squad-size and not having depth off the bench is definitely contributing to us fading in games,” said Sowry. “We are definitely young so I think our youth or inexperience has something to do with it but also just our fatigue levels. We have a tendency to make more mistakes late in games so that’s something we want to focus on as we move forward into A-10 games.”

Sowry said that the team is struggling right now in terms of keeping healthy and that this is the worst stretch of injuries that she’s experienced as UMass head coach. Keeping possession of the ball is critical for the Minutewomen because they can’t afford to chase with the level of fatigue that plagues them right now.

In terms of keeping team spirits up and maintain focus, Sowry pointed to Kelly and Potts as major role players as the team struggles with injury.

“Certainly our junior class is performing well, they have a great work ethic and great pride,” said Sowry. “People like Jaime Bourazeris, Katie Kelly and Makaela Potts have done a really good job at keeping the team together. They’re trying to lead by example and bring the freshmen and sophomores up to their level as well but it’s a tough pass and we’re hanging in there.”

Team health becomes that much more critical as post-season play approaches and Sowry noted that every game matters from this weekend until the rest of the season.

She’ll rest players whenever possible but come game time, she knows that every player needs to be at the top of their game. A loss down the stretch could mean the difference between competing for the conference championship and watching on the sidelines as another team earns the title on their home field when UMass hosts the tournament in November.

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

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