For the third consecutive season, the Massachusetts women’s soccer team has played well enough to earn itself a seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament and is looking to win its first conference title since 1997.
This season, however, marks the first time in three years that the Minutewomen (12-4-2 overall, 6-2-1 A-10) enter postseason play as one of the top six teams in the conference with the No. 4 seed. This year is also the first time in three years that UMass enters the postseason with a winning record and the first time that it has outscored its opponents in the regular season (23-14).
In order for the Minutewomen to make it deep into the tournament, they must stick to what has consistently worked throughout the season. They have to play solid defense from goal to midfield and maintain a shot-driven offense which includes freshmen and seniors.
Coming into the year, UMass’ biggest strength was its defense. As the season progressed, it became clear just how good the defense was as the Minutewomen went on to shut-out 10 different teams. Even against the best offenses, UMass defenders stifled opposing offensive drives by blocking shots, taking and maintaining possession of the ball and by moving the ball up into the midfield with quick, accurate passing.
On the rare occasions that opposing forwards were successful in breaking through the Minutewomen defenders, they were often times frustrated by the diving saves of junior goalkeeper Emily Cota.
Cota has been the cornerstone in net for UMass. In the 14 games she started in goal, she has a 10-3-1 record with nine shutouts, a .907 save percentage, a 0.56 goals-against average and over 1,288 minutes played.
With that kind of defense behind them, the offense is then free to work without the stresses of playing catch-up and can better find a rhythm.
The Minutewomen have a dynamic, shot-oriented offense that has seen significant contributions from its freshmen forwards. Two of the strongest offensive threats for UMass are freshmen forwards Tori Sousa and Moa Mattsson.
Sousa has developed into a fully capable striker with three goals, four assists and 19 shots, in addition to aggressive play in the offensive zone that drives the ball closer to the net while drawing multiple defenders away from other players.
Mattsson has also solidified her offensive role as a tough-to-handle forward with her size and speed, qualities she’s used to score one goal and three assists.
Driving the surprising performances of the underclassmen are the textbook examples provided to them by their senior leaders.
Senior forwards Julie Morrissey and Deanna Colarossi have been the catalysts of which this Minutewomen offense thrives. Morrissey has assumed the role of lead striker with seven goals, an assist and 56 shots, while Colarossi has been a key playmaker with four goals, three assists and 24 shots.
With strong defense and a highly productive offensive scheme, the greatest strength in UMass’ arsenal may be its ability to focus on the task at hand.
Throughout the year, UMass coach Ed Matz has preached the importance of taking the season “one game at a time.” With that mindset, the Minutewomen have been able to clear their minds of tough losses in addition to maintaining their drive to win after big upset victories. That mindset is sure to prove critical later this week, as each game they face will have the added pressure of potentially being their last.