The 7th-ranked Massachusetts field hockey team will have a chance for payback on Friday, as they visit No. 6 Syracuse, the team that knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament last season.
Despite the recent history between the two teams (which also includes UMass defeating the Orange, who were ranked No. 1 at the time, earlier last year), coach Carla Tagliente said that the team is focused on the present.
“I don’t think our heads are back at that point,” she said. “When you have a great opponent in front of you, you’re just looking to play your game, rise to the occasion and really demonstrate what we have.”
So far this season, Syracuse (4-0) has been just as strong on defense as the Minutewomen (5-0), with both teams allowing just one goal per game. Both teams are also among the top offensive teams in the NCAA, with the Orange having the sixth highest scoring offense (4.75 goals per game) and UMass having the 10th (3.6).
After defeating then-No. 19 Boston College on Sunday, the Minutewomen will be taking on their second straight top-20 opponent. Tagliente said that taking on BC helped the team prepare for the upcoming game against Syracuse.
“Boston College tested us in a lot of different ways,” she said. “BC definitely has helped us prepare a lot, and they press a little similarly to Syracuse as well.”
UMass will follow up the game against the Orange with a game against Ohio State (2-2) on Saturday. Tagliente said that the two teams have very different styles of play.
“Syracuse plays a better collective game, their structure outletting is really strong,” she said. “Ohio State, they have really skilled players, but they lean on a few players more than Syracuse does and rely on players to eliminate through the midfield one-on-one, whereas Syracuse, they have a great passing game and a great structure.”
The Buckeyes haven’t been as strong offensively or defensively as the Minutewomen so far this season, scoring the same amount of goals as their opponents (2.5 per game). Ohio State has played UMass three times in its team history, but has yet to beat the Minutewomen, although they came close in their last game on Aug. 25, 2012, losing in overtime by a score of 2-1.
Tagliente said the games will be an opportunity for the team to improve, particularly in penalty corner play.
“Both teams will have strong corner attacks, so it’s a key opportunity for us to seize those moments on our defensive corners and our attack corners,” she said.
The first game against the Orange is set to start at 3 p.m. on Friday at Syracuse.
Jesse Mayfield-Sheehan can be reached at email@example.com and can be followed on Twitter @jgms88.