And the heroics keep on coming.
After becoming Atlantic 10 Conference champions over the weekend, the Massachusetts field hockey team stormed back to oust Rider from NCAA contention, halting its would-be first appearance in the tournament. The Minutewomen (15-8, 6-1 A-10) topped the Broncs (15-6, 6-1 Northeast), 2-1, in an overtime thriller in an NCAA play-in game at Garber Field on Tuesday evening.
Freshman forward Allie Sabia emerged as the hero of the match after putting the cat in the hat just over seven minutes into overtime in dramatic fashion, reverse-sweeping a ball that hit off the right goal post, to guarantee UMass its 23rd NCAA tournament berth in program history.
“It actually happened really fast, it’s kind of hard to remember it all,” Sabia said. “I tried to have it tip off my stick, thought it was in, guess not, it went off the post and I did a reverse sweep. I was just thinking that I didn’t want our season to end.”
UMass coach Carla Tagliente said her team has found success and will continue to in the NCAAs due to unity, effort and trust in each other as well as the coaching staff.
“It feels great, there’s no other words to describe it,” Tagliente said. “It’s a great accomplishment for this group. They deserve it, they’ve worked hard, put in the time, trusted in me, the coaching staff and that process, so I’m just happy they get to experience it.
“They’re a special group and we can really make a run in the tournament,” Tagliente said. “We belong there. We’ve been scoring a ton of goals and we’re really hot, but my key to success is staying in the moment.”
Freshman goalkeeper Sammy Zeiders stayed in the moment and made her first collegiate start after usual starter, Sam Carlino, was scratched during warm-ups with “general sickness,” officials said.
Just nine minutes into the game, junior forward Sandra Penas recorded her 20th goal of the year, beating Zeiders with a shot after receiving a ball towards the right side of the circle.
The next 45 minutes would be evenly matched as both teams traded penalty corners until UMass senior forward Nicole Cordero evened things up, tipping in a low attempt on cage by senior scoring leader Kim Young, who received the ball after senior defender Thando Zono faked a shot off a penalty corner.
Cordero said the feeling after her goal was unlike anything else.
“After I scored, I didn’t even feel like I was in my body,” Cordero said. “I don’t know how my stick touched it, it just happened.”
With the Minutewomen’s sights set on the NCAA tournament, Cordero will have her first opportunity to compete in the Big Dance after being injured when UMass qualified for it her sophomore year.
“It’s amazing, I don’t think there are really words for it,” Cordero said. “My sophomore year, we made it and it was bittersweet for me because I was injured and couldn’t actually play in it. I worked hard all season for that team to get there, so now for me personally, the fact that we qualified outright is that much sweeter.”
UMass begins NCAA tournament action against Syracuse on Saturday Nov. 10 at a to-be-determined time at Penn State. The Minutewomen beat the then-No. 1 Orange in the regular season on Oct. 11, which kicked off their current 10-game winning streak.
Peter Cappiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cappiello.