After beginning the season 1-3-5, the Minutemen won a convincing 2-0 decision against Xavier on Friday to open conference play. On Sunday, UMass tied Dayton, 1-1, moving their conference record to 1-0-1.
Piekos anchoring defense
A key reason to UMass’ recent success is goalkeeper Chris Piekos’ impressive play. On Monday, Piekos received Atlantic 10 Player of the Week honors for his work over the weekend when he allowed one goal and made 10 saves in two games.
Earlier in the season, UMass coach Sam Koch employed a platoon between Piekos and fellow netminder Shane Curran-Hays. However, now it appears as if Piekos will be getting the majority of the starts.
“We’re just going one game at a time right now,” Koch said. “Right now we’re focused on Rhode Island and Piekos will be in goal. He’s solid and does a real good job.”
Piekos has started nine of 11 games this season, posting a 0.95 goals against average and a 0.839 save percentage with two shutouts. He was the tough-luck loser in a number of close games, which is reflected in his 1-2-6 record.
Koch believes that much of Piekos’ success comes from the presence of Curran-Hays.
“Shane is an outstanding keeper,” Koch said. “We would do well with either one of them in there and right now Piekos is playing a little better, and we have to go with the keeper that’s hot. We’re very, very lucky to have a keeper like Shane supporting Piekos and it’s no question Shane is a big reason why Piekos is playing as well as he is. They both respect each other and push each other, and I think they are indeed supportive of each other, which is extremely hard because there’s no question Shane wants to play.”
Second half breakdowns
Much of UMass’ frustration in the regular season can be attributed to its ineffective play in the second half.
Of the 14 goals the Minutemen have relinquished so far this season, eight have come in the second half and one in double-overtime. Shots are also coming easier for opponents in the second half, as UMass has allowed 89 shots in the second half compared to 50 in the first.
Those trends did not change on Friday against Xavier, when UMass took a 2-0 lead into halftime but allowed the Musketeers ample opportunities to score in the second stanza. Xavier outshot UMass 14-1 and had eight corner kicks in the second half.
“We’re not happy with that,” Koch said. “We’re trying to work on that. I give Xavier a tremendous amount of credit; they came out flying in the second half. We were trying to keep our lead and sit on it, which wasn’t a good idea. If they had gotten one [goal] it would’ve been very hard to keep them off the scoreboard after that. I think we did a pretty good job making it hard for them to score, but it was much more difficult than it needed to be.”
With their eight-game home-stand ending last weekend, the Minutemen hope their good fortune continues when they travel to Rhode Island and Philadelphia to play against Rhode Island, Temple and Saint Joseph’s.
Steve Levine can be reached at email@example.com.