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UMass field hockey benefitting from tough non-conference schedule

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts field hockey team has made a habit of overcoming ranked opponents in recent years.

UMass knocked off six teams ranked in the Top 25 last season on its way to the NCAA Tournament and have already beaten two ranked opponents just five games into 2013.

The seventh-ranked Minutewomen (5-0) will have a shot at win No. 3 over ranked teams when they take on No. 6 Syracuse – a team they played twice last season, winning one at home and losing the other in the Tournament – on Friday at 3 p.m.

Why so many nationally-ranked opponents?

According to UMass coach Carla Tagliente, it’s a perfect measuring stick for her team early in the season.

“It’s good because it gives us the chance to play against some of the best teams in the country and allows us to measure where we are at and what we’ll need to improve on,” she said.

And with Atlantic 10 play quickly approaching, it’s also a significant confidence booster for a team with its sights set on a repeat as conference champions.

“It’s very helpful because it shows me where some of our strong points are, as well as some of the areas we need to work on,” Tagliente said. “To have the success that we have had early on in the season is very important because it gives us confidence when moving forward.”

UMass started the season ranked No. 14 in the nation, but gathered big wins over Michigan and in-state rival Boston College, who were ranked No. 9 and No. 19, respectively, to propel the Minutewomen into the Top 10 for the first time this season.

While games versus ranked opponents certainly appear to be important contests, Tagliente treats them as any ordinary game..

“It’s just another game for us to go out and win. The rankings give us a reference about how strong our team is compared to others,” Tagliente said. “It doesn’t matter if we are playing the (No. 1) team or the (No. 79) team, it’s an opportunity for us to work on what we need to work on and get better.”

As for this Friday’s battle with Syracuse, Tagliente sees a major test for her team.

“I don’t think we view them as a rival, but it’s a really exciting opportunity to play against a top team and improve on our performances from the last two times we faced them,” Tagliente said.

Jason Kates can be reached at jkates@umass.edu.

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