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April 19, 2017

King, Blythe-Woods set to square off

The Massachusetts field hockey team may enter this weekend’s conference tournament as the fourth seed, the lowest seed in the tournament. However if season statistics denote anything, it’s that the Richmond-UMass matchup on Friday is more evenly matched than your typical No. 1 seed vs. No. 4 seed. 

UMass and the Spiders are the top two teams in the Atlantic 10 conference in most major statistical categories including scoring margin, scoring average, shutouts, goals against average, shots, goals scored and assists.

The two teams met less than two weeks ago in Amherst, when Richmond came out on top from a defense-dominated game, 1-0. That was also the last time the Minutewomen surrendered a conference loss.

The two teams are also the only teams in the conference to claim an overall winning record. The Minutewomen are 12-8 overall while the Spiders are 11-8. The Minutewomen could have held a higher seed in the tournament if they hadn’t dropped both contests against Saint Joseph’s and Temple in Philadelphia.

“We certainly let our guard down in Philadelphia, losing those two. I don’t think that we’re the No. 4 seed,” UMass coach Justine Sowry said. 

Those two losses put the Minutewomen behind both teams in the conference standing, and the Minutewomen were in danger of not even participating in the conference tournament. An inspired final regular season home stand saved UMass from watching from the sidelines this weekend.

The Minutewomen and Spiders counterattacking styles will be featured in the first game of the conference tournament on Friday.

At the forefront of that game will be two seniors, both raised outside of the U.S., who have been major impacts in their respective team’s recent success.

Sarah Blythe-Wood, of Harare, Zimbabwe, is the leading goal scorer in the A-10 with 19 of Richmond’s goals. In her last two games, she has compiled three goals and two assists to her name. Blythe-Wood also had the game-winning score in overtime in last year’s conference semifinals against Temple to send the Spider to the championship game. UMass’s strategy against her is simple.

“Deny her the ball. Cut off her supply. And if she does get it, then we’ll try and double-team her when we can,” Sowry said. “I think we have a talented center-middie and talented backfield that we can take care of her with good communication and awareness.”

The Minutewomen have done an excellent job in past meetings with Richmond of denying Blythe-Wood a score. In UMass’s 1-0 loss to the Spiders two weeks ago, Blythe-Wood finished with two shots, none on goal, with zero goals or assists. In last year’s championship game, UMass held Blythe-Wood to two shots on goal. 

UMass midfielder Cher King, of Christ Church, Barbados, is playing through an injury, and has six goals and one assist in her last three games played. She single-handedly carried UMass over La Salle, 6-3, this past Friday by outscoring the entire Explorers team, 4-3.

King and Blythe-Wood are no strangers to each other’s game.

“They’ve played against each other for four years,” Sowry said. “They both have great stick work. I’m sure they have a mutual respect for each other.”

Both players would rather keep their collegiate careers alive for the championship game, but after Friday’s showdown, only one will get to play on.

The Minutewomen hope they are the ones on the field on Saturday, especially with the support of their home crowd spurring them on.

“We’ve been waiting for this all year, hosting a tournament,” Sowry said. “We were nervous there for a little while, not even sure if we were going to make the tournament, but now we’re here. We’re full-steam ahead.”

UMass was 6-4 at home this year, but when the Minutewomen needed a win the most this past weekend, they delighted the home crowd.

“We’re excited to play at home in front of our home crowd,” Sowry said. “I think home-field advantage is perhaps going to give us an extra little inch to get over the line.”

Pete Vasquez can be reached at pvasquez@student.umass.edu.

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