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March 22, 2017

UMass wins two over weekend, sneaks into A-10 Tournament

wsocBThe Massachusetts women’s soccer team surged into the Atlantic 10 Championship hunt after qualifying for the conference tournament for the first time since 2004, with a shutout victory over Richmond on Senior Day.

The Minutewomen (6-10-2, 5-6-0 A-10) entered the weekend as long shots to make the postseason, but used a pair of 1-0 victories to ascend from the cellar to the sixth seed in the tournament. The defense stepped up in the clutch and proved to be a deciding factor in the team’s victories over George Washington (7-8-4, 4-5-2 A-10) and Richmond (8-10-2, 4-6-1 A-10).

“It’s a great reward for these kids,” UMass coach Angela Napoli said after earning a playoff berth. “They have been working hard since preseason and we’ve been pushing them hard … They’ve worked hard since the beginning and it’s just great to see them get their reward.”

UMass and Richmond combined for 23 shots on Sunday, with only one proving to be the difference. Midway through the 36th minute, sophomore Lauren Yelinek scored her first goal of the season. Freshman Meredith Fox brought down a serve-in by sophomore Lindsey DiOrio, with Yelinek flicking it past the goalie and giving UMass the only goal it needed. The assist gave DiOrio the first point of her collegiate career.

Senior Lauren Luckey started her third consecutive game in net for UMass and had a strong showing in her final game at Rudd Field. She tallied two saves in 45 minutes of action, including a key stop on a two-on-one fast break. She also stopped a shot by sophomore Liza Koch near the four-minute mark.

Richmond came close to taking a 1-0 lead nearly 16 minutes in, but a shot by sophomore Emily Dale was high and hit the crossbar. The Minutewomen had several chances to increase their lead in the first half, but Sydney Stoll, DiOrio, and Yelinek sent open shots sailing over the crossbar. Junior Therese Smith attempted the only shot of the second half for UMass.

Freshman Emily Cota took over in net in the second half and finished off the shutout with two saves.         

“It was one of the best, most complete games we’ve played all year,” Napoli said. “It was nice to see (the seniors) come out well on the last day. Senior day is always tough. They were focused from beginning all the way to the end.”

Luckey and fellow seniors Cristina Adams, Katie Ruggles and Jacquelyn Desjardins were honored with a pregame ceremony for Senior Day.

“It’s usually hard to win both games on Friday and Sunday,” Ruggles said, “but we did and it’s a great way to leave Rudd Field, which is a home away from home.”

In Friday’s match up versus George Washington, Stoll came up big in crunch time and provided the game’s only goal. With less than five minutes to play, the redshirt junior tucked a kick in behind the goal keeper off of a rebound. She was assisted by Smith and Yelinek.

Like yesterday’s match up against Richmond, Friday’s effort was dominated by defense. The Minutewomen attempted eight shots, with Smith and Stoll firing the only two that were on goal. The duo finished the regular season tied for the team lead with five goals apiece, with Smith also tallying a team-high 13 points.

“After our game on Friday, there was one thing I noted,” Napoli said of her defense. “There were three or four chances in the box that honestly, at the beginning of the season, would have been goals. They fought hard and got on the end of loose balls and they definitely have picked it up.

Luckey, Adams, Ruggles, Desjardins and the Minutewomen return to action on Thursday night against third-seeded Fordham to conclude first-round play. The Rams defeated the Minutewomen 3-2 in double-overtime on Oct. 11 and finished the season with a 6-4-0 conference record (7-11-1 overall).

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

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