The Massachusetts field hockey team stands alone atop the Atlantic 10 with an undefeated 3-0 record and the confidence that it can defeat any school on any given day.
Being the top team in a conference means that every other school is aspiring to beat the Minutewomen, but despite the added pressure of being in first place heading into the second week of A-10 play, the Minutewomen are all smiles.
“There’s usually somebody who is a bit down at practice every now and then,” UMass coach Justine Sowry said. “But, hey, you’ve got to loosen up at the end of the year. We’ve got a great group of girls and they know what’s at stake. We try to make it fun for them.”
The atmosphere is immediately noticeable just walking past Garber Field. Laughter and smiles radiate from the faces of the Minutewomen where practice is taking place. To an average passer-by, this is not the look of a team in contention for a conference title.
“Sometimes we get caught in a rut of doing the same thing over and over,” Sowry said. “Having good awareness and good leadership on the field is huge. We’re trying to keep them loose in practice every day while still staying tough and not letting up.”
In past practices, Sowry and her coaching staff have given away small team awards meant to both poke fun and acknowledge the hard work each player has put in. In one award in particular, the “Sweep Award”, Sowry hands out a small broom to a player who has successfully utilized the sweep hit for a goal in the previous week’s game. The gesture might seem small, but the effects have been widespread throughout the team and have lightened the mood in the most important part of the team’s season.
“We usually do it every week,” Sowry said. “The girls love it and they give each other a hard time about it if one of them wins something. It’s become pretty popular.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking the team has stopped playing, however. Each player still has the responsibility to stay on top of her skills and improve with each passing day, and Sowry still expects perfection.
“I think now we’re building,” Sowry said. “From the games last week, I don’t think we necessarily played our best hockey, but we were able to come out with wins. Wins are great, but we’re still trying to work on our passing patterns and aspects of the game like that. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve also set ourselves up quite nicely.”
Sowry is promoting a balance of working hard while having fun doing it. If the mood of the Minutewomen is any indication, the rest of the A-10 could be in for a long week as the season wraps up.
“We’re very excited for where we are now,” Sowry said. “We know what we need to do to improve, but we’re just taking it one day at a time right now. It should be a lot of fun.”
Michael Wood can be reached at email@example.com.