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Goalkeeper Alesha Widdall plays large role in victory

Massachusetts goalkeeper Alesha Widdall stood in net Sunday, facing Syracuse midfielder Martina Loncarica.

Clinging to a 1-0 lead with just two minutes, 11 seconds left in the game, the Minutewomen had dominated the Orange on offense all day. Regardless, all their hard work could have been erased with one penalty shot, and if the Orange get any momentum, its offense is difficult to stop.

Loncarica bounced up and down a few times to distract the goalkeeper then skipped a shot to the left side of the goal. Widdall dove to her right a split second later and the ball deflected off her blocker pad. Still 1-0.

“It was very nerve-wracking,” Widdall said. “I tried to stay composed as much as possible. At this level it’s really hard and you basically have to just pick a side and dive. Luckily it was a little off base and I could get to it.”

Under enormous pressure from a potent Syracuse offense, Widdall finished with 11 saves, an anomaly in field hockey. Most came on diving or sliding stops, as she earned her 16th shutout of her career.

 “Alesha was huge,” UMass coach Justine Sowry said. “Alesha, along with the rest of the defenders, showed incredible composure and she specifically was undeniable. She really wanted to keep the ball out of the back of the net. It was a fabulous effort.”

Widdall has been the most consistent player on the squad all season long. Eleven games into her junior year, she is already on pace to record personal records in saves, shutouts and save percentage. Her coach believes she plays and leads like a true senior veteran.

“[Alesha] is always outstanding,” Sowry said. “With a quality goalkeeper back there, we can play more aggressive, and having her back there really gives the team great confidence.”

Widdall has a laundry list of accomplishments and it is difficult to argue with the numbers she has put up during her third year in goal.

She is currently 10th in the nation in season save percentage (.785), and fourth among active goalkeepers with a career save percentage of .779. She is 18th in goals-against average (1.38), and also ranks seventh in minutes played, the only non-senior player on that list.

Against the juggernaut that is Syracuse’s offense, Widdall knew it would take all of her efforts to keep her team in the game.

 “I try to keep my feet under me as much as possible,” Widdall said. “In past years they’ve scored early on, so I tried to stop them early. I gave everything, everything, everything I had to stop the ball today.”

It’s not easy being the anchor of a defensive scheme, but Widdall takes it all in stride. She prepares for every game the same way, and doesn’t let herself get too ahead in her pregame thoughts.

“At first it’s a weird process,” Widdall said. “I try to get really pumped up for the game and psyched, but I also try to stay very composed because if I get too psyched up, I let in dumb goals.”

Michael Wood can be reached at mcwood@student.umass.edu.

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