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Closely-contested loss to top Explorers displays UMass improvements

In its 3-2 overtime loss against La Salle at Rudd Field on Sunday afternoon, the Massachusetts women’s soccer team proved that it has everything it takes to compete with the best schools of the Atlantic 10.

The Minutewomen (9-3-2, 3-1-1 A-10) were on a 7-0-1 run before their loss to the conference-leading Explorers (13-0-1, 5-0-0 A-10), a stretch that marked the first time in which UMass had been unbeaten in eight consecutive matches since the 1997 season. Over that span, the Minutewomen shut out six teams, outscored their opponents 11-2 and outshot them 110-101.

Even in a tough loss against one of the best teams in the country, UMass still showed that it was not a team to be taken lightly by any opponent, no matter their national standing. The Minutewomen demonstrated that they could shut down opposing offensive drives with tight defensive play, as well as capitalize on the few scoring chances they were able to make with an offense that has grown to be more and more shot-oriented since the start of the season.

For the Explorers, UMass is just the second team to which it has surrendered a goal (with Dayton being the first) and the first team to which it has surrendered multiple goals this season. Prior to Sunday’s match, La Salle had outscored its opponents 30-1 and had shut out 11 consecutive teams to start the season.

As they work to improve their A-10 standing and prepare themselves for postseason play, the Minutewomen, both freshmen and seniors alike, are more than pleased with the way they have performed against tough competition.

“Honestly, I could not have asked for a better start to my college career,” said freshman forward Tori Sousa. “To get on a team that is a top competitor for the A-10, I am really excited and I just want to make the most of my opportunities to help my team win.”

Sousa has begun to establish herself as a strong presence on offensive drives in her first collegiate season. Sousa has scored two goals, earned three assists and has managed 10 shots in 14 games played.

“Being a senior, this is [a great feeling],” said defender/midfielder Meghan Collins. “We have not been this successful this early on in the A-10s, so…this [season] is huge. We are excited to play and to push further along [in the standings].”

Collins has proven critical in UMass’ defensive and offensive play. In addition to solid defense and good ball movement through the midfield, Collins has also registered two goals, an assist and 11 shots in 14 games played.

When compared to last season, it is obvious why the upperclassmen are so excited to continue their season at their current pace.

In 2010, the Minutewomen finished with an 8-11-0 record, including a 2-0 loss to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 Tournament. UMass was outscored by its opponents, 32-28, outshot 260-244, and suffered from stretches of inconsistent play. Also, though they held a winning home record of 5-3-0, they managed only a 5-4-0 conference record and a 3-7-0 road record.

Currently, UMass is outscoring its opponents 19-13 and is being slightly outshot 190-181. The Minutewomen have played well on both offense and defense, and have gone deep into games, outscoring opponents 9-6 in the second half or later (as compared to last season, in which they were outscored 15-11 in the second half or later).

UMass has also been dominant at Rudd Field this season. In addition to a strong 6-2-1 home record, the Minutewomen also sport 3-1-1 road and conference records, all marks greatly improved from their previous totals.

Even with so many improvements already made, do not expect UMass to sit on its heels as the season winds down. The Minutewomen still have to work to secure a top seed within the conference, as well as win their first A-10 Tournament match in the new century.

David Martin can be reached at dmmartin@student.umass.edu.

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