The Atlantic 10 competition has arrived and for the Massachusetts field hockey team, it’s all about lessons learned from the past.
The Minutewomen (5-6) face a Saint Louis (0-12) team on Saturday that is still searching for its first victory of the season. However, their line of focus remains unwavered as they remember mental lapses a year ago that plagued the team in its first three conference matches.
A season ago, the Minutewomen were 9-3 with one game to go before conference play. They went on to lose their next four games, including three straight conference matchups by a total score of 6-1. The losing streak meant that they had to win each of their next three conference games just to make it into the A-10 tournament.
While UMass accomplished that difficult feat last year, it is making sure that its concentration is much sharper for this year’s conference run.
“What you’ll find with this team is that we’re on a mission right now,” Sowry said. “[The team has] a chip on their shoulder from last year. They’re not going to take any game lightly, whatsoever and they’ll be pushing really hard throughout the A-10s.”
There was no lack of intensity last weekend when the Minutewomen shut out then-No.8 Syracuse, 2-0, and claimed their first win against the Orange in 12 years.
But now the roles are reversed. Saint Louis has never beaten UMass. The series, which began in 1979, has stretched to seven all-time meetings. In those meetings, UMass has outscored SLU, 26-5. Last year, the Minutewomen ended their aforementioned four-game losing streak in a convincing 10-1 rout of the Rams.
Still, Saturday’s game will not be taken lightly, especially with UMass having prepared all season for their conference matchups.
“Any of the A-10 opponents, when they come up against us, they’re going to be bringing their best games,” UMass coach Justine Sowry said. “What I do know about Saint Louis is that they do fight; they’re a scrappy, fighting team. If you don’t respect your opponent, anything can happen at the end of the day. So we’ll be taking them pretty seriously.”
Sowry feels that her team can play with the best teams in the country if the concentration level is there. However, early this season, the Minutewomen had trouble sustaining their concentration against lesser opponents.
“The team is really starting to grow up,” Sowry said. “What we’re looking at is putting together consistent performances every game. Our senior leadership has provided consistency with their performances, but it’s getting the freshmen, those that are playing a lot of minutes, consistent within the team structure.”
UMass has a chance this weekend to come out strong against its conference rivals and not like it did a year ago. The mission is clear: win the Atlantic 10 – one game at a time.
“In terms of the focus and energy, it’s looking really good right now,” Sowry said. “[This weekend] is just going to be an opportunity to measure ourselves up with our opponents in the A-10. It’s full steam ahead.”
Pete Vasquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.