The Massachusetts field hockey team has not beaten Syracuse in over 10 years, but the Minutewomen will be looking for their first victory in recent memory Sunday when the Orange head to Garber Field for a 2 p.m. match-up.
Syracuse coach Ange Bradley is 12-2 all-time against the Minutewomen and in last year’s contest, the Orange outplayed UMass and won 5-2.
“Syracuse is a team that puts you under an enormous amount of pressure,” UMass coach Justine Sowry said. “They really press you hard and force turnovers. When we played UConn, we tried to knock them off their flow, and this time it will be more about us being composed while Syracuse is pressuring us.”
If there is one area that UMass needs work in, it’s the offensive attack, something Sowry said the team has been working on all week.
“We’ve been working on scoring,” Sowry said. “The last couple of days we’ve been working on having purpose in the scoring circle, whether that be winning corners or getting good shots or even rebounds in the circle.”
UMass has averaged just a goal per game through 10 games this season compared to the 26 goals the Orange have recorded. Even against Vermont, a team which gives its opponents plenty of chances to score, the Minutewomen have not found the back of the net. Only four players have scored this year, with senior forward Katie Kelly accounting for 60 percent of the offense.
“We’re having a lot of fun throwing more [scoring] drills at [the players] and giving them more repetitions to get confidence on the ball” Sowry said.
Syracuse enters the game with a high-powered offense, having tallied their scores from 10 different players. Two-time All-American Lindsey Conrad leads the team with six and is followed closely by Martina Loncarica, who has four.
The ninth-ranked Orange are 3-1 in away games, something that can be attributed to how well they start games. Sowry said her team has to be ready from the beginning and set the tempo early.
“The big thing for us is composure under pressure and the start of the game,” Sowry said. “In at least two out of the last three years, they’ve scored three to four goals within 12-to-14 minutes against us. They come out really hard and set the tone and that’s something we’ve struggled with so far.”
Where the Minutewomen excel is on defense.
They have held high-powered opponents to a .125 shooting percentage, giving up just 14 goals on 112 shots all season. The veteran leadership of senior defender Makaela Potts and junior goalkeeper Alesha Widdall has paid dividends for UMass.
“When you compare our strength of schedule with others in the conference we probably have the toughest schedule,” Sowry said. “To concede so few goals says a lot about our defense. Makaela [Potts] moving back has been great and Alesha [Widdall] is leading it back there. We demand greatness from them and we’ll keep pushing. They’re doing their job and they’re doing it well. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
The Minutewomen are coming off a tough 1-0 loss to Albany despite controlling the pace of play and recording a 13-11 shot advantage. Widdall made four saves in the contest while Kelly led the offense with four shots.
The Orange will play Providence on Saturday before coming to Amherst to take on UMass. In its last contest, Syracuse defeated then-No. 10, Louisville 4-3 in overtime. Loncarica scored the game-winning goal off a pass from freshman Leonie Geyer and found the back of the net for the win. Conrad also scored twice, becoming the school’s all-time leading goal scorer in the process.
“It’s going to be an amazing battle,” Sowry said. “Our girls are going to be ready from minute one.”
Michael Wood can be reached at email@example.com.