At the end of every regular season, teams start paying closer attention to the conference standings and start fighting to get the best spots in the playoff brackets.
This year, the No. 12 Massachusetts field hockey team is fighting for the top spot in the Atlantic 10.
The Minutewomen (14-4, 5-0 A-10) have a one-game lead over second place Richmond (11-6, 4-1). The team will head out on the road this weekend for the last two games of the season against Lock Haven, which holds the No. 3 seed in the conference and Saint Francis, which is one game behind Saint Joseph’s for the fourth and final playoff spot.
UMass coach Carla Tagliente said clinching the top spot in the playoffs and getting to play the lowest seed in the first round is crucial for the team.
“Regardless of who we play, we’ll be ready, but to not have to play Richmond or Lock Haven (in the first round) I think would be an added bonus,” she said.
If the Minutewomen win at least one of the games over the weekend, they will clinch the top spot in the playoffs.
“If we play how we should, things should take care of themselves,” Tagliente said. “I don’t necessarily think there’s a sense of urgency or worriedness running through the team right now.”
UMass will first travel to Lock Haven, Pa., on Friday to take on the Lady Eagles (13-5, 3-2 A-10), who are coming off a tough 2-1 loss to Richmond on Sunday.
Lock Haven comes into the contest with the sixth best defense in the nation, allowing 1.17 goals per game.
Tagliente spoke highly of the Lady Eagles’ defense and added that the location of the game could pose some problems for the team.
“The surface of their field is different than ours, so it’s going to be difficult for us to execute and play the same style of game that we typically play,” she said. “We just need to make adjustments quickly and probably just attack quickly, not overthink and overanalyze what we’re playing on.”
Tagliente said scoring early would be a key part of the game, which could prove difficult as both teams’ defenses have been stronger in the first period than in the second.
“It’s going to be really important that we’re methodical with what we do inside the 25 (yard line) and take advantage and take care of the ball and attack with more purpose than what we have been the past few games,” she said.
The Minutewomen will travel two hours south to Loretto, Pa., on Sunday to take on Saint Francis. The Red Flash (7-7, 2-3 A-10) are coming off a tough 1-0 loss to Saint Joseph’s on Sunday and will host Saint Louis on Friday before taking on UMass.
Tagliente said the trouble of playing at another field should come up again in this game.
“Again, it’s an issue of playing on a different surface, and it’s going to be a challenge for us to get used to that really quickly and to execute how we want to play,” she said.
The game at Lock Haven is set to start at 3 p.m. on Friday and the game at Saint Francis is set to start at noon on Sunday.
Jesse Mayfield-Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed on Twitter @jgms88.