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Minutewomen want to get back on track

The Massachusetts field hockey team did something this weekend that it hadn’t done since the middle of the 2007 season.

For the first time in two years, the Minutewomen (9-6, 0-2 Atlantic 10) dropped three straight contests. Uncharacteristically for UMass, two of the teams it fell against were A-10 opponents Saint Joseph’s and Temple.

Last season, the Minutewomen cruised in conference play, going undefeated and claiming the A-10 title for the second consecutive year.

Even with the struggles Saint Joseph’s and Temple have faced in the last couple of seasons, UMass coach Justine Sowry was not overly surprised by the outcomes.

“They’re very good teams, and they always bring their best,” she said. “When you’re ranked as high as you are, you’re always going to be hunted down.”

With the success the Minutewomen have had in the past, Sowry also felt her team might have been looking past both opponents.

“I was not surprised, but on some levels, I think our team was surprised.”

In the process of losing three straight games, UMass was shutout in two of them against the Hawks and in a 3-0 Connecticut loss, and scored only one goal in the other game against the Owls. The Minutewomen haven’t been a high-scoring team, and their identity lies in the strength of their defense. Their attack comes from the backfield, and is set up by the defense, which has had difficulties in its past few games.

“We certainly are still attacking, we’re still getting into the circle, but we’re probably putting ourselves in one-on-one situations rather than getting numbers in attack, so we can perhaps get our teammates in better situations to score,” Sowry said of the offense.

This season, UMass is averaging just under two goals a contest, while giving up almost a goal and a half per game. In order to reach postseason play and make a run, Sowry realizes that her team must pick up the scoring and relieve pressure off of the defense.

“We’re really looking at supporting each other off the ball, trying to get the confidence back, trying to get the repetition in this week so we can put the ball in the back of the net,” she said.

Things don’t look any easier heading forward, as the Minutewomen have a stretch of four games in the span of a week, starting Friday against conference foe Richmond. If UMass wants to play itself back into favor, it will get its chance with four remaining A-10 matchups the rest of the way.

“Our backs are up against the wall right now. We’re coming from behind now and it’s going to be really tough,” Sowry said. “We have to keep the faith and keep believing that it’s virtually one ball at a time, it’s not even one day at a time, it’s one ball at a time, one set play, [and] one penalty stroke at a time.”

Despite the tough circumstances for UMass, the coaching staff believes this could be a blessing in disguise and give the team the kick that it needs.

“As my assistant coach, Kelly Dostal, said, ‘this could be the best worst thing that’s happened to us,’” Sowry said.

Jay Asser can be reached at jasser@student.umass.edu.

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