Carla Tagliente isn’t feeling like a field hockey coach.
She feels like a jockey instructor.
“It’s like letting the horses out of the gate right now,” she said. “Everyone is just sprinting and excited to get out there.”
The Massachusetts field hockey team is looking to improve on its 7-11 season last year that ended with a 4-0 loss to Temple in the Atlantic 10 semifinals.
It won’t be too hard to make it back there, Tagliente said.
“We have returning players that trained really hard all year that have gotten a lot better so I think in every line we are deeper,” Tagliente said.
Tagliente added that all the pieces are in place for an improved season, but she and her team still need to prove it on the field.
“The potential is there to be better on the field, but it is just going to be how we bring it together and how the leaders step up and lead this team,” Tagliente said.
One area the Minutewomen can improve is their play against out-of-conference teams. UMass dominated A-10 play with a 7-0 record, but went a mediocre 8-8 in its out-of-conference games.
Tagliente said the Minutewomen found so much success against conference opponents because they learned from their struggles against non-conference teams earlier in the season.
“That was a big growing time for us as a team,” Tagliente said, “but that set us off later in the season when we hit A-10 play.”
That growing period will help them this year, Tagliente said.
“As competitors, they were not satisfied with how they finished last year and the performance of the team last year,” Tagliente said. “And I think that they have taken responsibility for that and put it on their shoulders.
“Last year, I think we had a young team and we worked a lot on team dynamics and leadership and I think our leadership and how people step up to the plate will be key as well for us,” she said.
Depth doesn’t appear to be an issue for the Minutewomen either. The team graduated four players, with the rest of its starters returning to the field.
“I think [the depth] will enable us to have some sort of rotation with our lines that will not demand 70 minutes from any one player,” Tagliente said. “That will create a level of consistency in our play that we haven’t had in the past.”
Scoring has been an issue for UMass in recent seasons. Last season, Tagliente’s squad averaged 1.56 goals per game.
She doesn’t expect a weak offense again.
“I think we have some players that have improved a lot and we have some players who are going to come into the program and add a level of excitement and style of play that this program has not seen in awhile,” Tagliente said.
Contrarily, the defense has been a mainstay of success for the Minutewomen. The back line gave up more than two goals only three times last season.
Last year’s goalkeeper Alesha Widdall, who is now a member of the United States national field hockey team, was key piece of the defense. Widdall will be hard to replace, especially with freshman Sam Carlino listed as the only goaltender on the roster.
“The one position we aren’t as experienced in is the goaltender position,” Tagliente said. “When you lose a player like Alesha Widdall, those are big shoes to fill.”
And with wins over No. 18 New Hampshire and No. 15 Ohio State to start the season, Tagliente is got a good look at how her squad matches up with the best of the best.
Matt Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.