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Physical Spiders top Minutewomen, go on to win title

Any momentum the Massachusetts field hockey team carried into the weekend for the opening round of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament was quickly halted by Richmond as the Minutewomen fell from tournament after their first game.

The top-seeded Spiders (12-8, 6-1 A-10), who were 7-3 on the road compared to 5-5 at home in the regular season, weren’t rattled by the home field advantage the Minutewomen had in hosting the tournament at Garber Field and won 2-1 in overtime on Friday.

The win advanced Richmond to the finals, where it defeated Temple for the conference title. The loss ends the season for the Minutewomen, who close out the year at 12-9 overall and 3-4 in conference play.

Richmond allowed only 1.7 goals per game this year, and its strong defense blanked UMass after giving up the first score of the game on a penalty corner to Cher King.

“When pressure is put on us, we go a little bit one-on-one and don’t see open passes,” UMass coach Justine Sowry said. “You have to stay composed and the vision has to be there all the way through the game so we’ll take some lessons from that and improve on it for next year.”

The game soon turned into a physical, back-and-forth contest which had emotions running high. Playing with a Minutewomen squad that has accumulated 41 penalty cards this season, the Spiders were able to draw out the frustration of UMass.

In total, the Minutewomen combined for four penalty cards as Jamie Bourazeris drew both a green and a yellow card, while Nikki Panciocco and King added two green cards themselves.

Though Sowry didn’t plan for such a physical game heading into the weekend, she wasn’t surprised by what she saw.

“I actually thought it would be a little bit more open today, but both teams are trying to get to the finals so it was rough and tough out there,” Sowry said. “It went both ways, and that’s just the way it is.”

Going into the game, UMass was concerned with Richmond’s Sarah Blythe-Wood, and for good reason. The senior was the Spiders’ best player and the A-10 leading goal scorer in the regular season.

On Friday, the Minutewomen had trouble containing her as she was involved in both of Richmond’s goals. On a penalty corner, Blythe-Wood powered a shot on goal and recorded an assist when it was deflected and scored by Dani Pycroft.

In overtime, Blythe-Wood scored her most significant goal of the season when she took a long pass and evaded the defense to zip a shot past UMass’ Alesha Widdall in goal. The score was Blythe-Wood’s fourth game-winning goal of the season, putting her one behind teammate Katelin Peterson for the conference lead.

“She’s a great player and you have to take care of her and play good defense,” Sowry said. “She’s someone that even late in the game when everyone is tired, she keeps the composure on the ball.”

Though the loss marked the first time in the last two seasons that the Minutewomen didn’t win the conference title, it came on the heels of a tough season. Sowry was confident that UMass will come back next year and have the success it’s been accustomed to since she arrived.

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

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