Minutewomen begin NCAA Tournament play Saturday against Virginia
After winning its second consecutive Atlantic 10 championship, the No. 10 Massachusetts field hockey team will make its 24th appearance in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday when it faces No. 7 Virginia in the first round.
The Minutewomen (18-4, 7-0 A-10) enter the contest riding an 11-game winning streak dating back to Oct. 2, when they defeated Northeastern 2-0. The Cavaliers (15-5, 3-3 ACC) have lost two straight, most recently losing to Duke in the ACC quarterfinals.
UMass has prior experience playing ranked opponents this season, so Minutewoman coach Carla Tagliente doesn’t believe the challenge of playing a top 10 team will overwhelm her squad.
“I think our schedule so far has prepared us well for what we are going to see on Saturday,” Tagliente said. “I don’t think Virginia is as strong collectively as other teams we have had to face, and I think we will match up well against them.”
Unlike last year, UMass does not have to worry about playing in the play-in game, giving the team a couple extra days to recover and get ready for its game Saturday. Tagliente said it was a huge relief when finding out her team didn’t have to play in the extra match.
“The main thing is knowing where the team is going to be playing, and eliminating that element right away,” she said. “With the fatigue and wear the regular season brings, not having to play that extra game in the middle of the week is huge. Our players are able to get an extra day of rest and recharge for the weekend.”
After playing her last game ever at Garber Field, senior Hannah Prince is not ready for her season to end and knows her team has what it takes to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think never giving up and knowing that we can keep getting better is very important,” she said. “We could potentially have two more weekends of field hockey, so it’s really all about not letting up at all and keep working together as a team.”
In terms of preparing for a game against a tough team like Virginia, Tagliente knows that the preparation will be no different from how her team usually gets ready.
“We have some video on them from the regular season, so we’ll go off of that and come up with a gameplan,” Tagliente said. “They have a few players that are exceedingly talented, but we’ll be well prepared for them once Saturday rolls around.”
UMass will have to slow down Cavaliers forward Elly Buckley, who leads the team with 48 points, scoring 20 goals and eight assists in the regular season, After Buckley, three Virginia players are tied with 20 points and account for 25 of the team’s 58 goals.
Keeping Buckley and a few other key players under control will be crucial in getting the win this Saturday and Tagliente has no doubt her defense is up to the task. For her team, it’s all about execution in the offensive end.
“For us, it is critical that we create opportunities in the circle and continue to focus on set pieces,” she said. “We’ve been working on penalty corners all year, so being able to execute and jump out to an early lead will be important for us.”
Junior defender Lauren Allymohamed, who just picked up the award for Atlantic 10 Tournament Most Outstanding Player, believes her team can beat anyone if it just focuses on the task at hand and not look to the future.
“We just need to keep playing how we’ve been playing and stay focused,” she said. “If we keep playing as a team and continue to move the ball the way we have been, we can beat any team if we put our minds to it.”
The contest will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Duke.
Jason Kates can be reached at email@example.com.