The No. 12 Massachusetts field hockey team will host two of its toughest Atlantic 10 conference opponents this weekend, including its biggest rival in the league.
On Friday, the Minutewomen will host Richmond at 1 p.m., and on Sunday, the team will host Virginia Commonwealth at noon.
UMass (12-4, 3-0 A-10) has a long history of competing with the Spiders (10-5, 3-0) for dominance in the A-10. The two teams have won every conference championship dating back to 1996, with Richmond claiming seven titles in that period while the Minutewomen won 10, including last year’s title, in which they defeated the Spiders 5-0.
UMass coach Carla Tagliente said she doesn’t expect the history between the two teams to affect the game.
“I don’t really think anything in the past is going to weigh on us,” she said. “We know going into it they’re probably the best team in the conference other than ourselves and they’re going to provide us probably the best test and challenge.”
Richmond got off to a rough start this season, losing its first four games, but have won 10 of its last 11 games and currently sit in second place in the A-10 behind the Minutewomen.
The Spiders boast one of the best defenses in the nation, leading the NCAA in goals allowed per game at 0.87.
“They’ve always had a very sound defense, they have a very strong goalkeeper and a pretty tight group in the back,” Tagliente said.
The UMass defense has also been strong as of late. The team is allowing 1.38 goals per game and has not allowed more than one goal in a game through the month of October.
On the other side, the Minutewomen’s offense has caught fire since the start of conference play, averaging nine goals per game through their first three games and rank sixth in the nation in goals per game at 3.81. While the Richmond offense has not been as strong, currently averaging three goals per game, Tagliente believes its offense can still be a threat.
“They can score in streaks, they’re very streaky and they can break a game open quickly,” she said.
In Sunday’s matchup, VCU (8-7, 2-1) comes into the weekend ranking 36th offensively and 49th defensively. Senior Emilie Soares leads the offense for the Rams with 13 goals and seven assists on the season so far.
VCU currently sits in fourth place in the A-10 behind Lock Haven, which it faces on Friday before traveling to Amherst. After losing their first conference matchup to Richmond by a score of 6-1, the Rams are now on a two-game winning streak heading into the weekend, including a double overtime victory against St. Francis last Sunday.
VCU may not have the same amount of talent or history with UMass as the Spiders, but Tagliente said it’s important that the team give the same amount of effort against the Rams.
“I think Friday we’re going to test Richmond and they’re going to test us, and I think getting back on track and refocusing is going to probably be the biggest challenge for us,” she said.
Jesse Mayfield-Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed on Twitter @jgms88.