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UMass field hockey enters A-10 tournament as No. 1 seed

On Friday  afternoon, the No. 12 Massachusetts field hockey team begins its quest for back-to-back Atlantic 10 titles as it takes on Virginia Commonwealth at Garber Field for the semifinal round of the conference tournament.

The Minutewomen (16-4, 7-0 A-10), who received the No. 1 seed after going undefeated in conference play for the first time since the 2010-11 season, already beat the Rams (10-9, 4-3) at home, 3-1, in their first meeting this year. And will do it on an even bigger stage Friday.

Araz Havan/Collegian

UMass coach Carla Tagliente believes playing at home is advantageous for her team, especially in the playoffs.

“You’d like to think being at home is a huge advantage,” she said. “We’ve performed well at home this year, so having that level of familiarity and not having to travel will definitely help us.

“I think after having the stretch of games we just had on the road playing on some surfaces that aren’t similar to what we play on, it will definitely be good to get back home and in front of our home crowd.”

For UMass,  sported an 8-2 record at home this year, with the only losses coming  against New Hampshire and national powerhouse Maryland. Four of those wins came against conference opponents with the Minutewomen outscoring opponents 21-4 during that stretch.

Tagliente believes it is critical for her team to stay focused and just take it one game at a time, starting with the contest  on Friday.

“The VCU game from earlier in the season is still fresh in our minds, and we know that they are challenging in many different ways,” she said. “They put a lot of numbers on defense, which makes it tough for us to generate scoring opportunities. When we played them earlier it was one of our most disappointing performances of the season, so I think we’d like to show what we can really do and improve from the last time.”

The Minutewomen offense has revolved around sophomore Brooke Sabia, who leads the team with 19 goals and 39 total points. Senior Alexa Sikalis leads the team with 18 assists, which is currently the second most in the NCAA. UMass will have to contain VCU’s attacking trio of Emilie Soares, Kendell Combs and Stephanie Demasi, who have combined for 70 points, including 23 goals and 24 assists. Tagliente said that limiting VCU’s opportunities on offense and controlling the tempo of the game are just a few things the Minutewomen will need to do to pull out the victory and advance to Saturday’s championship game.

“I think it is really important we get numbers under the ball and make sure we take advantage of our offensive opportunities,” she said. “Last time out against VCU, our decision-making on the attack was a bit disappointing, so it’s critical we take care of the ball and get up early in the game.”

The game versus VCU is scheduled to start at  2:00 p.m. on Friday, following the first semifinal contest between second-seeded Richmond and third-seeded Lock Haven.

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

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