The Massachusetts field hockey team now stands alone atop the Atlantic 10 standings. The Minutewomen (7-9, 5-0 A-10) remain undefeated in conference play after wins over La Salle and Temple over the weekend.
UMass has now won 15 consecutive regular season conference games dating back to 2009.
On Friday, the Minutewomen hosted the Explorers (7-9, 2-2 A-10) at Garber Field. UMass sported pink shirts during the pre-game warm-ups in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Day. La Salle was coming off an overtime loss to Temple while the Minutewomen were coming off a weekend in which they netted 10 goals in two games.
UMass got on the board in the first half in the 15th minute with a goal from junior Kim Young. Young’s fourth goal of the season came off a penalty corner, when she corralled the ball and lifted it past Explorers goalie Lisa Shafer for the top-shelf score. Young was assisted by Nikki Panciocco and Christine Cutry.
A minute later, the Explorers charged back into the UMass circle and fired off a quality shot that senior captain Alesha Widdall turned away to sustain the lead. At intermission, the score remained 1-0 as the Minutewomen dominated the offensive play in the first half, outshooting La Salle 11-1 and holding the advantage in penalty corners at 4-0.
“While the score didn’t really show it, I felt that we had all the momentum in the first half but then they seemed to steal it back in the second half,” said UMass coach Carla Tagliente.
In the second half, the Explorers had a chance to tie the game in the 51st minute, but once again Widdall came up with the big save. The action was back-and-forth between the two teams when Renee Suter looked to double the UMass advantage as she fired off a shot in the 55th minute and then another off her own rebound. The shots, however, were rejected by Shafer.
Then, with 13 minutes remaining, Lindsay Bowman received the lead pass from Young and faked out the diving Shafer to leave her with the wide-open net to backhand her fourth goal of the season. The Minutewomen won the game 2-0 and fired off 23 shots. Widdall recorded six saves in her fourth shutout of the season while her counterpart Shafer had nine saves.
“I think the important thing was we played our brand of field hockey,” said Tagliente. “We were loose, we connected well and the big takeaway for this game was we played a full 70 minutes and were able to win.”
On Sunday, UMass hit the road to take on Temple who was also 4-0 in the A-10 at the time. The Minutewomen knew that this game could make or break their chance at the No. 1 seed in the A-10 tournament.
“Our confidence is pretty high right now, once A-10 play started we had a new mind-set and knew that we needed to play well to move on to the postseason,” said Widdall.
The game would prove to be intense as overtime was needed to settle the score. Panciocco scored six minutes, 53 minutes into extra time to give UMass the 2-1 win and sole possession of first place in the A-10.
UMass was rolling off the momentum of Molly MacDonnell’s game tying goal with just three minutes remaining in regulation. MacDonnell took a pass from Alexa Sikalis in the Temple circle to net her third goal of the season to force overtime. UMass dominated the overtime period, outshooting the Owls 6-0.
“I think we’re a lot more confident and playing better defense in conference play, and our midfielders and strikers are clearly playing with more confidence as they are connecting a lot more on the offensive end,” said Tagliente.
The Owls got off to a quick start with a goal from Bridget Settles in the 10th minute for her 16th goal of the season. Temple held a 14-7 shot advantage in the first half, but the Minutewomen responded in the second half with a 7-3 advantage. Widdall made five saves in the victory.
“We knew we were going to have to play for a consistent 70 minutes and we knew what was at stake and everyone was ready to step up and meet the challenge,” said Tagliente.
Only Richmond sits in the way of a second consecutive year of a perfect conference record. The Minutewomen host the Spiders (11-6, 3-1 A-10) on Senior Day this Friday. The win over the Owls assured UMass of at least a share of the regular season conference title. After hosting the Spiders, UMass wraps up the regular season against Providence on Sunday afternoon. Friday’s game at Garber field begins at 1 p.m.
Michael Counos can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at MDC Counos.