From complete devastation to absolute jubilation is how UMass coach Justine Sowry described Tuesday’s rollercoaster of a day for the Massachusetts field hockey team.
After falling to Stanford, 2-1, at home in the NCAA tournament play-in game at 3:00 p.m., the Minutewomen learned of their second life after an 8:00 p.m. NCAA selection show revealed that they had earned an at-large bid into the tournament.
“[Tuesday], I heard a few of the [players] say it was insanity, and it was,” Sowry said.
As the players let their emotions run down their faces following the afternoon defeat, Sowry and the coaches frantically tried to explain to their players that there was still a chance and that their fate would be decided later that night by the NCAA selection committee.
“We didn’t tell the [players before the game] about the opportunity of getting in [with] an at-large bid,” Sowry said. “We wanted them to play hard as if it was going to be their last game out there on Garber Field.”
All together that night to watch the results, the Minutewomen jumped to their feet and embraced each other while the television showed that Maryland’s first opponent would indeed be UMass.
Three days later, the Minutewomen have had another week of practice under their belts as they prepare to suit up and faceoff against the No. 1 team in the country on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
“There’s no question in my mind that they will be focused,” Sowry said. “Having been so disappointed after the game [Tuesday], they will leave it all out on the table.”
UMass knows all the pressure is on the Terrapins, who went 17-1 in the regular season and rolled past the ACC tournament.
“They’ve been one of the powerhouse programs over the last 10-15 years,” Sowry said. “All the expectations are on that program right now so that should take the pressure off. [I’m] just looking for us to enjoy it, play from the very first minute and then you just never know.”
The Minutewomen hold an advantage, having played Maryland in the regular season. UMass lost the Sept. 19th meeting at College Park by a score of 3-0. But the nerves are already out, according to Sowry, and both teams have improved since then.
Maryland boasts the National Player of the Year in senior attacker Katie O’Donnell, as well as a supreme supporting cast. O’Donnell tallied 28 goals and 30 assists throughout the regular season, while four other Terrapins had double-digit goals to their name, including junior Jemma Buckley with 21.
Both O’Donnell and Buckley, along with sophomore Megan Frazer, scored goals in the lone meeting with UMass.
The Minutewomen, however, are no strangers to squaring off against the best teams in the country. Their 13-6 season included wins over No. 4 Connecticut and No. 8 Syracuse; two wins that played a major role in their selection by the committee.
In order to inspire more hope in her players, Sowry recalls the feat the 2007 men’s soccer team accomplished in defeating No. 1 Boston College in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
“That’s a great underdog story that I think we can use with our team,” Sowry said. “We have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Sowry and the Minutewomen are relying on their blue-collar work ethic to pull off a similar task as the 2007 Minutemen did. It’s the work ethic that made them the class of the Atlantic 10 and now has them as the lone representative of their conference.
“In terms of our game plan, its go hard or go home, no guts no glory,” Sowry said.
UMass has already experienced heartbreak. Now it’s time to have fun. The disbelief that hovered over the players after Tuesday’s loss has transformed into assurance. The Minutewomen knew they belonged in the NCAA tournament and now they get their second chance to take out a powerhouse.
As Sowry put it: “We’re the giant killers, so we’re ready for an upset.”
Pete Vasquez can be reached at email@example.com.