First-year head field hockey coach Carla Tagliente begins her career at UMass by stepping into a program with a recent tradition of winning.
The Massachusetts field hockey team has been named the number one team in the Atlantic 10 once again, and is playing for its fourth conference title in five years. Luckily for Tagliente, she has inherited a team that possesses a lot of talent.
The Minutewomen lost just three seniors to graduation and have a well balanced roster coming into the fall. At the helm are seniors Alesha Widdall, Nikki Pancioccio and Christine Cutry. Amanda Dietz rounds out the senior class, accompanied by eight juniors, eight sophomores and just four freshmen.
Between the experience of veteran players returning, promising young talent and the strategy of a new head coach, this UMass team certainly has the potential to be a big threat in the 2011 campaign.
“My expectations for this team are quite high,” said Tagliente. “We are returning a strong core and we plan to build on the success of the last few years, and realistically, if this team plays to its potential, I can see it as a top-12 team in the nation.”
Tagliente is replacing former head coach Justine Sowry, who accepted a job at Louisville after a four-year stint with the Minutewomen. Tagliente will begin her career in Amherst after two seasons as an associate head coach at Northwestern. Before that, she was an assistant coach in the Big Ten conference for eight seasons, serving at Michigan and Iowa.
“I would say our coaching styles differ a bit due to our background,” she said. “I, being a scorer when I played, has given me more of an attacking mindset,” Tagliente said. “I think this season we are going to put a lot more emphasis on goal-scoring while still playing strong defense.”
The term “brick wall” may best describe Widdall’s play between the pipes. She is returning for her fourth consecutive year as the Minutewomen’s main goalkeeper, starting all 23 games in 2010 while stopping 97 shots and recording eight shutouts, with a 1.19 goals against average. Thanks to Widdall’s play, UMass led the A-10 in both of the latter categories. Widdall also earned All-American honors twice, three All-Conference goalkeeper titles, A-10 Student-Athlete of the Year, and Team USA Junior National Squad honors in 2008.
“I think [Widdall] is going to be great and she is a very important part to our defense,” Tagliente said. “She has grown a lot as a player in the sense of organizing the defense, leadership skills and making an impact on and off the field.”
With expectations of another outstanding season, Widdall will be a key factor in the success of the Minutewomen. As long as she stays healthy, sophomore Kori Huffman and freshman Emma Hamstra will likely watch and learn from the sidelines from one of the best in the program’s history.
It is understandable why UMass is the preseason favorite given the experienced defensive unit in the backfield. Despite losing Jaime Bourazeris to graduation, who was second in points last season, seniors Amanda Dietz and Christine Cutry are the eldest of the squad with Cutry starting 13 games last season.
Also included are four juniors – Elizabeth Karns, Sarah Schlosstein, Callie Sweigart and Thando Zono. Alongside Cutry, Zono and sophomore Hannah Prince are the only other returning starters from 2010. Zono finished tied for the second-highest goal total last season, with six, despite only playing in 16 games. Unfortunately for UMass, Zono looks to be lost for at least the first month of the season due to injury once again.
Sweigart started every game as sophomore in 2009 but redshirted in 2010 with a torn ACL. Tagliente has been impressed with Sweigart thus far, and said she has done a great job stepping up to organize the defense after the injury to Zono. The unit is rounded out by freshman Lauren Allymohamed, of Seaford, England.
Last season, the Minutewomen defense allowed just 28 goals all season on 128 shots. UMass allowed nearly 100 fewer shots than they took with 336. By contrast, the Minutewomen led the conference in goals allowed and goals allowed per game.
“Defense has always been our strong suit and we plan to continue on doing what has made this team successful in the past and that is play excellent defense,” Tagliente said.
Offense doesn’t look to be an issue for the Minutewomen this season either. Despite losing an All-American and their three-time captain, Makaela Potts, UMass still looks to be solid at the midfield position. Five of the seven players returning have in-game experience as well as three returning starters from last season.
Starting every game a season ago, Panciocco and sophomore Alexa Sikalis play both midfield and forward. Panciocco was tied for second on the team in assists last season with eight, while Sikalis knocked in two goals as a freshman.
Junior Kim Young is the other returning starter at midfield, recording three goals last season. Kate Heineman saw time off the bench and redshirt freshman Marisa Dunn and freshman Renee Suter have yet to see action in collegiate play, but have shown promise in offseason workouts.
The only flaw in this talent pool may be the lack of experience at the forward position. The Minutewomen lost their biggest scoring threat in Katie Kelly to graduation. Kelly led the team in both goals and points, netting 11 and 31, respectively.
Of the true forwards only junior Nicole Cordero returns as a consistent starter from last season. Fellow junior Kara Charochak started 12 games as a freshman in 2009 but sat out all last season. Sophomore Lindsay Bowman started half of the games in 2010 campaign while Alyssa Ineson, Molly MacDonnell and Mel Sutherland all saw playing time off the bench.
“The front line is certainly the youngest and most inexperienced on the team, but I think the first couple of games will bring growth and I see a lot of success out of our goal scorers,” said Tagliente.
UMass was second in the A-10 with 41 goals scored in 2010 on 180 shots. They led the conference in shots, assists, and penalty corners. Under Tagliente, the Maroon and White hope to further their offensive attack and give fans something to cheer about all season long.
Michael Counos can be reached at email@example.com.