Challenges catch up to Minutewomen down the stretch
When the week came to an end, the Massachusetts women’s soccer team’s season did as well.
Thursday’s 4-1 defeat against the Flyers (14-4-1, 7-1-1 A-10) marked the end of the road for a team that faced its fair share of challenges along the way. Despite his team’s performance, UMass coach Ed Matz was still disappointed by the way it ended.
“Even though we played well on that day,” Matz said, “it is hard to be happy with a 4-1 defeat.”
Matz also acknowledged that the many challenges throughout the season made attaining UMass’ (9-10-1, 4-4-1 A-10) goals difficult.
“We had great aspirations and we were hoping to finish in the top two or three in the conference,” Matz said. “But looking back I think that was going to be very difficult for us with all the injuries we had, players coming in and out of the program, all the different starting lineups we had it was hard to get continuity on the field and we’re so young.
“So a lot of those things went into making us finish where we did.”
The Minutewomen battled issues throughout the season. However, as the months carried on and the schedule entered the A-10 portion, the challenges started to pile up.
Though the team started strong, collecting six points in their first three A-10 games, the Minutewomen’s playoff hopes took a beating when they dropped two road games to Saint Joseph’s and Temple. UMass took a pair of hits over the weekend when starting midfielder Hlin Gunnlaugsdottir withdrew from the university coincided with the absence of sophomore Tori Sousa, who had provided scoring opportunities for UMass.
However, the lack of road success wasn’t confined to just one weekend in October. UMass found road points hard to come by all season compared to its home success.
“I think we underestimated how young we are and were,” Matz said. “It was just very difficult for us to get any type of consistency and continuity where we would win two or three games in a row.”
It wasn’t all gloom on the road though. The final game of the season had the Minutewomen travel to Pittsburgh, Pa., to salvage their playoff hopes. With five goals from five underclassmen, UMass nudged its way into the tournament. It was a game that left Matz impressed.
“With our backs against the wall, the last game of the year against Duquesne, the team really came through,” Matz said. “I was really impressed and proud of the way the team came together. We gave one of our best performances.”
The 2012 season also produced challenges at the front-end of the scheduled. The Minutewomen traveled to face two ranked opponents, hosted then-No. 6 UCLA and also going on the road to face Boston University, a team that at the time had just dropped out of the rankings. Matz believes the experience gained in the matches against the ranked programs was valuable.
“I think it certainly helped our team,” Matz said. “The recruits and our players want to play the best, we want to play a very competitive schedule. Had we played an easier schedule we probably would have ended up with 11 or 12 wins on the year, but we didn’t. We played the schedule we did and I think the players had some great experiences.
“Playing those schools really benefitted us towards the end because we have a lot to build on from the teams we played this year, from the things we accomplished.”
Matz believes his team accomplished a lot by making the A-10 tournament.
“It is much better to go to the tournament than not go,” Matz said. “We don’t want to be one of those eight teams, we don’t ever want to be one of those teams that sits home and has to watch the tournament unfold on the computer. Just the experience of going to the A-10 and knowing you’re one of the few teams that made it that far is great for the program and it is a good accomplishment.
“You don’t want to feel what it’s like to not make the tournament.”
The Minutewomen will graduate just three seniors between now and their 2013 season, but the importance of the offseason work will not be any less as Matz looks to move his team from playing on just the Thursday of an A-10 tournament to playing in the finals on Sunday’s.
“We have some things that we need to address but we want to be one of those teams that plays on Sunday,” Matz said. “But it’s important that we bring in some good freshman that will help us reach some of our goals and build upon the players we have here.”
Jeffrey Okerman can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Okerman.