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Minutewomen begin Atlantic 10 schedule against winless Billikens

Maxwell Sparr/Collegian

After an emotional 2-0 victory over nationally ranked Syracuse last weekend, the focus of the Massachusetts field hockey team is set to do a complete 180 degree turn as it matches up against winless Saint Louis.

The win against the Orange marked the second time this season the Minutewomen have defeated a Top 10 team, and the second time they have defeated a team in the Big East conference, a perennial field hockey powerhouse.

Many teams will experience such a huge win, and the “hangover” or emotions from the game will filter through practice and into the following week’s game. UMass coach Justine Sowry said her team has the ability to play with the best in the nation, but is taking special care to stay consistent on a week-to-week basis.

“We have the ability to play with the best when everything is perfect,” Sowry said. “But then the next game we lack that consistency. I think that’s from how young and inexperienced our team is. Our senior leadership has provided consistency with certain performances but its getting freshman and those playing a lot of minutes consistency within the structure.”

Despite her team’s impressive performance against Syracuse last week, Sowry said the squad is taking one game at a time and trying to focus on perfecting the minor details of play in order to stay strong against a 0-12 Billiken team.

“We’re not even looking at Saint Louis’ record,” Sowry said. “I think there were times last year where we didn’t refocus for the A-10 competition and went into the weekend not focused on the task at hand. Our job is to come together and be strong in the Atlantic 10 and win that. We’re just going to take one game at a time.”

After a disappointing loss in the semifinals of the A-10 tournament last year, UMass is taking no chances this time around. Sowry said her team is taking things slow and trying to be methodical in its approach. The most important games of the season, in terms of advancing to national playoffs, come against teams from the A-10, and Sowry says she is not looking past the week’s opponent.

“What we’re trying to do is learn lessons from previous years,” Sowry said. “We looked ahead last year and it hurt us because we didn’t take that opening weekend seriously. We were put in a difficult place. This year we are literally thinking one game at a time, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Slightly more than halfway through the 2010 season, the Minutewomen stand 5-6 overall and play six of their last seven games against A-10 opponents. Sowry said that aside from the three seniors (Katie Kelly, Makaela Potts, Jamie Bourazeris) and goalkeeper Alesha Widdall, she has been tremendously pleased with the entire team’s effort throughout the season. She highlighted a few players she has taken particular notice of, but stressed that each player has contributed in some shape or form each week.

“In any game that we’ve played there has been someone who’s stood out,” Sowry said. “I’m pretty happy overall with many of them. If we’re talking about the amount of minutes and consistency there are players like Hannah Prince who has played nearly every minute and I think that’s pretty impressive as a freshman to be a defender. I think Alexa Sikailis has performed exceptionally against good opponents. Then at various times we’ve had solid performances from the freshman on the forward lines as well.”

Sowry also noted two key returners from last season who have used their experience and knowledge to help the team this year.

“There are two [players], one of which would have to be Nicole Cordero on the forward line,” Sowry said. “I think she’s really stepped it up a notch with her leadership, her work ethic and the punch she’s been able to provide. And somewhat of an unsung hero has been Nikki Panciacco. She stepped up as our starting center midfielder and has played against some of the best players in the country and has done a great job. It’s critical that she performs tough everyday and she’s been able to do that for us.”

The Minutewomen will begin A-10 play against the Billikens at 6:00 p.m., Oct. 9 at Garber field

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

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