For Massachusetts field hockey senior defender Thando Zono, the dream became reality.
On Saturday evening, the second-seeded Minutewomen dethroned top-seeded Richmond, 5-0, to claim the Atlantic 10 championship. And for Zono, it was truly a dream fulfilled.
“I was thinking about this last night, you know when you dream about something and then there’s a difference between that and making a memory? Well, we actually made a memory – we did it, it’s phenomenal,” Zono said.
Zono, named the A-10 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, recorded her first career hat trick in the contest, which she opened and finished by putting a ball past Spiders (16-5, 7-0 A-10) goalkeeper Anna Zarkoski.
Coach Carla Tagliente, who was named Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year last week, lauded UMass’ (14-8, 6-1 A-10) championship play and ability to execute in the match.
“It feels a little surreal still, I think it will sink in later,” Tagliente said. “It feels great, I’m really happy for the team. They did everything and anything we asked them to do today and they just executed so I couldn’t be more proud of the group.”
Just nine minutes, 58 seconds into regulation, Zono notched her first goal of the game, putting in her own rebound after catching up to a ball that was turned away from the cage on a penalty corner.
The first half remained quiet until Zono added her 11th goal of the year on a blast off a penalty corner from seniors Callie Sweigart and Kate Heineman to double the Minutewomen’s lead, extending the score to 2-0 with 2:47 left until halftime.
Heineman joined the scoring parade 10 minutes later when she put away her second of the year off a bouncing ball that was placed into the left side of the circle by senior scoring leader, midfielder Kim Young.
Young contributed the fourth goal of the evening, 56 minutes into play as the Sidney, N.Y., native lifted a shot into the right side of the cage on a penalty corner, set up by junior defender Hannah Prince and Sweigart, who had three assists on the evening.
The final tally of the game came in the form of Zono’s hat trick goal with less than seven minutes left in the game. Zono flew a ball into the left side of the cage on a penalty corner from Sweigart via Heineman to seal a 5-0 victory for UMass.
Freshman goalkeeper Sam Carlino recorded her third collegiate shutout in the game.
After a head-to-head collision with a Spider early in the contest, which Zono was slow to get up from, the Grahamstown, South Africa, native said the bump might have gotten her head in the right direction.
“I think it kind of (put) my head in the right direction because after that I played pretty good,” Zono joked. “But firstly, I’m going to give glory to God because I couldn’t have done it without him. “I was just playing my game, it wasn’t a case of thinking (I) need to be scoring, I was just in the right positions and executing the set plays off corners,” Zono said. “I was thankful for that, tried to stay as calm as possible and enjoy every moment of the game.”
Sophomore Lauren Allymohamed, who was named A-10 Defensive Player of the Year last week, agreed that keeping a positive outlook contributed to the win.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Allymohammed said. “I think everyone came in knowing we could do it even though we lost one nil to them in the conference, but we all had positive minds coming in and it paid off.”
Senior scoring lead UMass past Temple
Temple senior forward Katie Briglia opened up the scoring for the Owls (12-9, 5-2 A-10) on Friday afternoon in the fourth minute of play in the semi-finals of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.
UMass knotted the score line 11 minutes later on sophomore midfielder Renee Suter’s second goal of the year after she buried a ping-ponging ball off a rebound sent in by Alyssa Ineson from Brooke Sabia.
Suter said there was a sense of urgency among the team heading into the game, a year after the Minutewomen’s 2011 season was ended by the Owls in the semifinals of the A-10 tournament.
“We knew we didn’t want a repeat of last year, you don’t want to end your season when you can keep going,” Suter said. “We came in knowing that we had to play well and that Temple was going to come out strong, trying to redeem themselves from the last time we played them at Garber Field. We knew we had to buckle down, play our game and not let them affect that.”
The Minutewomen added two more unanswered strikes when Zono capitalized on the penalty corner in the 20th minute and Young scored five minutes later off a picturesque redirection at the top of the right circle to give UMass a 3-1 advantage.
Temple caused an interruption in momentum when A-10 Offensive Player of the Year, sophomore forward Amber Youtz, deflected a shot into the right side of the cage after a pass by junior Mandi Shearer to cut the deficit to 3-2. But they were deflated when senior Nicole Cordero smacked a ball out of the sky and into the cage to put her team up 4-2 about seven minutes later.
Zono had the final say in the game as she scored off a penalty corner, assisted by junior Alexa Sikalis and Heineman with less than three minutes to play in regulation.
Tagliente said her team lived up to the expectations and pressure of a do-or-die situation.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for a while,” Tagliente said. “We’re a great team, but we just need the opportunity to show that we’re great, so to have another day to prove it is awesome. This team, compared to last year, we score more goals, are more disciplined in the circle, finish opportunities and create more opportunities, so we are prepared and it’s a credit to them for making the improvements.
The Minutewomen will now play Northeast Conference champion Rider on Tuesday in an NCAA tournament play-in game at 1 p.m. at Garber Field.
Peter Cappiello can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cappiello.