After winning the 2012 Atlantic 10 tournament this past weekend, the No. 19 Massachusetts field hockey team is one win away from a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
The Minutewomen (14-8, 6-1 A-10) will play Rider in the play-in game today at Garber Field for an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
UMass junior defender Hannah Prince said that her team is prepared to take on fierce competition.
“We want to compete with the best because we are the best,” said Prince.
The Minutewomen are in the midst of a nine-game winning-streak, including wins against No. 3 Syracuse and No. 16 Richmond, in which they have outscored opponents 38-8.
UMass coach Carla Tagliente said that the streak is not weighing down on her players.
“The magnitude of the play-in game and the brink of being on the NCAA tournament I think carries much more weight than the winning streak right now,” she said. “The team is very focused on one thing and that is getting to the tournament.”
Prince echoed Tagliente’s thoughts saying she is not focused on the streak.
“I personally am very humble about stuff like that and I think the team is as well,” she said.
The Broncos (15-5, 6-1 Northeast Conference) have a streak of their own with six straight wins, including a NEC championship.
“They are athletic, they are fast, they have a lot of players that have a lot of skill up front so they are definitely not a team we are taking lightly,” said Tagliente.
Tagliente added that the Broncos are a very unique team and could give the Minutemwomen some trouble.
“I think they play a style we are not accustomed to,” she said. “They hit the ball a lot out of the back. They do not really build it out much. We just need to be ready to step up and intercept.”
Rider boasts a strong scoring attack led by Sandra Penas, who has scored 19 goals this season. Tagliente said that she trusts her defense won’t get too preoccupied with Penas.
“We are not going to change our structure to accommodate her at all, but we will just be aware. The defense has been playing great in smothering the other team so I’m not that concerned about it,” said Tagliente.
Prince said that the key for a Minutewomen win is to attack early and often.
“I think that its going to be important for us to not sit back on our heels and to come out strong like we have been doing,” she said. “As Carla (Tagliente) always says, ‘the results should take care of themselves.’”
UMass will be playing at home for the 15th time this season.
“We have been fortunate to have more home games than away this year and we have been playing outstanding hockey at home so we are happy to be here,” she said.
Tagliente said that she is impressed with her team’s play over the past nine games, but she is even more impressed about how her team has evolved over the season.
“We have definitely been tested early on in the season and had to work through some adversity on the field and off the field and come together,” she said. “We could have gone north or south after some of those tough losses and we chose to stay on path.”
Prince added that the team’s aspirations do not end with simply winning the A-10 championship.
“It is our berth into the NCAA tournament and that has been our goal since the day the season ended last year was to win A-10’s, make it into the Sweet 16 and go even further,” she said.
Matt Levine can be reached at email@example.com.