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May 9, 2016

Craft gets off to hot start to begin season

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Bryant Craft is making good on a promise he made earlier this summer when he said he was going to elevate his game.

The junior forward from Worcester, Mass. has two goals in the Minutemen’s first two games. His first came in the season opener against Boston University, which resulted in a 1-1 tie. His second goal came Monday in a tense, 3-2 loss against Harvard. Craft’s quick scores ended the mild trepidation on how he would adapt to his new position as a forward instead of a midfielder, the position he played primarily during his first two seasons.

“Coach [Koch] switched me from outside midfielder to forward which was a big change,” Craft said. “But I think he had the confidence [in me] and knew I could adjust – I guess it’s paying off.”

Koch has confidence in his veteran forward, citing his speed and desire to attack the goal as the two strongest parts of Kraft’s game.

“He is so good at going forward,” Koch said. “He wants to score a lot of goals and he’s great at going straight for the goal.”

Craft is well on his way to having a career-year, already eclipsing his one goal, one assist campaigns in his freshman and sophomore years, respectively. He credits his early success to the hard work he did over the summer when he played alongside teammate Ben Arikian and even some former Major League Soccer players on Long Island, N.Y.

“This summer was a good experience for me,” Craft said. “I just went down there with the mentality to try and get better and improve.”

Improve he did.

Even with one goal per game average on the young season, Craft remains humble and knows he’s not the only offensive threat the Minutemen have. Arikian carries much of the offensive workload along with junior forward Chris Roswess, who Koch believes is a more dangerous player when he plays alongside Craft.

“I just work hard,” Craft said. “I go out there and give everything I have every game. I’m not going to say I’m the fastest guy or the most skillful guy – my goal is just to outwork you every game.”

Craft’s tenacious play has drawn rave reviews from the UMass coaches, who struggled to come up with weaknesses in the talented forward’s game.

“He’s not really that funny,” Koch joked. “His jokes are really bad.”

Craft, on a more serious note, understands there are parts of his game that actually need improvement.

“My left foot is definitely one area I need to improve,” Craft said. “I’d also say the [mental aspect] like being able to stay tuned and being effective for the full 90 minutes.”

Koch wants Craft to continue his hot start so that UMass can find more balanced scoring after netting just 15 goals in 17 games last season on its way to a 7-7-3 record.

UMass looks for its first victory on the year when they travel to Connecticut for a 1 p.m. game against Fairfield University.

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

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