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UMass to take on Spiders, need conference win

After losing both games against non-ranked conference opponents this past weekend and dropping six spots in the NFHCA/Kookaburra Division I Poll, Massachusetts field hockey coach Justine Sowry strayed from her usual practice routine. The sixteenth-ranked Minutewomen instead played a care-free game of soccer at practice this week.

Sowry stressed the fact that the Minutewomen (9-6, 0-2 Atlantic 10) need to forget about the past and to remain calm in preparation for the future. UMass faces Richmond (9-7, 3-0 A-10) tomorrow at 3 p.m. in a rematch of last season’s A-10 conference championship game, which the Minutewomen won, 2-0.

“As soon as we become frustrated and panic, then we cannot make good decisions on the field,” Sowry said.

“It’s really important this week to be sharp and intense at training, but also be in a relaxed state of mind and that’s really important.”

UMass swept the 2008 season series against the Spiders, outscoring Richmond, 5-1 in two games.

Senior Cher King and junior captain Katie Kelly scored three of the five goals against the Spiders, and they are two of the most capable Minutewomen to bring UMass out of its slump, especially in-conference. King had one goal, three assists in four conference games last season, and Kelly had four goals, one assist in six A-10 games.

Kelly and junior back Makaela Potts lead UMass with six goals this season. Potts also has six assists in a productive backfield that includes Jaime Bourazeris (three goals, one assist), Nikki Panciocco (one assist) and Christine Cutry (one goal, one assist).

Even though the Minutewomen swept the Spiders last season, Sowry is well-aware that Richmond is gunning for UMass and looking to extend its perfect start in conference play.

“Richmond is a great opponent. They’re undefeated [in the conference] and coached well,” she said. “They have a number of talented of players, and I’m sure they want to beat us. They have strength all over the field and we’re going to have our best performance on Friday to have a chance, and that’s what we are aiming to do.”

Sophomore All-American Alesha Widdall leads the conference with a .733 save percentage this season, and holds the edge over Spider goalkeeper Jacki Raithel (1.83 GAA) with a 1.47 goals-against average.

While the Minutewomen have a strong defensive front that can also score goals, Richmond’s leading goal-scorer Sarah Blythe-Wood (16 goals, seven assists), leads a Spider defense that is just as productive as their offense.

Senior Megan Thompson scored the only goal in the series for the Spiders, and returns this season to lead a forward line that has 29 goals among them.

In a conference stat-sheet dominated by both UMass and Richmond, the Spiders have allowed 1.73 goals per game this season, behind the Minutewomen’s 1.53.

Richmond is largely a first-half team, scoring seven-fewer of its 51 goals before halftime, while giving up 49 of 89 penalty corners in the second half.

The Spiders, however, are marginally better on the road. In four away games this season, Richmond averages 4.25 goals per-game, and Raithel averages nearly seven saves per-game in road matches.

Notes

The 2009 NFHCA Division I Senior All-Star team includes A-10 representatives: King, Blythe-Wood and Temple’s Charise Young. The two-time All-Conference player has one goal, three assists this season. Wake Forest University hosts the game at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21.

The North and South squads will consist of 20 teams and the game consists of two 25-minute periods. As an addition to the festivities, the All-Stars face the 2009 U.S. National team as well.

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

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