For seniors Jaime Bourazeris, Katie Kelly and Makaela Potts, this weekend was already one to remember. Leading the Massachusetts field hockey team to a two-game home sweep only made it more special.
On senior day, the three eldest players on the team were showered with praise from friends and family who came to see them play their last game at Garber Field dressed as Minutewomen. Fans had names printed on their chests and relatives were seen with bouquets of flowers at the edge of the stands, ready to embrace their loved ones after the game.
“It was almost surreal,” Potts said. “I really didn’t think this day would ever come for me. I actually don’t feel like a senior, I still feel like a junior, so it’s really weird. It still hasn’t hit me; I don’t think it will hit me until the season really ends. But hopefully we have a while.”
UMass coach Justine Sowry has called these three players a pivotal threesome that helped turn the program back around.
“All three of them have contributed significantly over their entire careers,” Sowry said. “I can’t speak enough about all three of them. They’ve played throughout all the different lines. You get great leadership. This year in particular, they brought just a whole other level of dedication, commitment and that competitive spirit. They’ve really led the team well and they’re focused heading into the Atlantic 10 tournament.”
On the front page of the program for Sunday’s game was a picture of the three seniors huddled around each other, with arms intertwined and radiant smiles beaming from their faces. After Sunday’s 4-1 win over Saint Joseph’s, the same smiles were visible again.
Kelly, the two-time team captain who has led UMass in goals for the entire season, received the nod to take a penalty stroke with two minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the game. She stood with the ball, about 10 yards away from the SJU goalkeeper, and calmly sent the ball into the left corner of the net, cementing the win for the Minutewomen.
“I had never done a stroke in a game before, so I was really nervous, but it felt pretty good to be able to score,” Kelly said.
“She’s worked on [the penalty stroke] for four years,” Sowry said. “What a perfect way on senior day to give her an opportunity. So when I asked her, she smiled. It was a rocket, great goal.”
She also scored the only goal in Friday’s 1-0 victory over Temple on a backhanded shot in the circle. Kelly’s score was set up by a penalty corner.
Bourazeris and Potts have made a living this season executing penalty corners. Bourazeris lines up the crucial opening pass and Potts, with her sharp stroke, more often than not gets the shot.
Both players played major roles in both wins this past weekend specifically because of their execution on penalty corners. Out of the five total goals scored by UMass, four came courtesy of the penalty corner. The only one that didn’t was Kelly’s penalty stroke.
Teams have now realized that Potts is the first option on penalty corners, and make it a point to recognize her at the start of every corner. Thus, for the first goal of the game against the Hawks, Potts became the decoy. When the ball was set up to her for a shot, she faked her swing, giving Thando Zono a clear shot for the score.
After the clock wound down to zero and the game was over, teammates and coaches took turns hugging the three players.
“They basically just said that today was a big, emotional day for us seniors and that we wanted to finish it off strong and have a good result at the end,” Kelly said. “That’s what we focused on throughout the game, just having a positive result so we could celebrate the day.”
The results were there and the celebration was on. While the players and coaches insist that two more conference games remain and nothing is solidified as far as the A-10 standings, the three seniors could afford to let go and take it all in on Sunday. The day was for them.
Pete Vasquez can be reached at email@example.com.