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UMass field hockey sets its sights on Final Four

(Chris O’Keefe/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts field hockey team saw their 2016 season end on a Saturday afternoon in College Park, Maryland, in a heartbreaking 2-1 shootout loss to No. 2 ranked Maryland. Ten months later, their 2017 season is already underway and the team has high aspirations as they look to erase the memory of that loss.

“One of the team’s goals every single year is to win the Atlantic 10 championship, but moving forward they have a goal this season of going to the Final Four,” coach Barb Weinberg said. “It’s definitely attainable. Last season we were this close, lost in a shootout against Maryland, so they understand that the margin for them to go from the first round of the NCAA Tournament to the Elite Eight is very small, and they’ve been working every day since last February to get there.”

Optimism is running high around this UMass team (2-2), which returns last year’s leading scorer Sarah Hawkshaw and goalkeeper Emily Hazard while also introducing a crop of talented freshmen. This is also the first season for coach Weinberg, who replaces interim coach Amy Robertson from 2016.

The returning players maintain that this year’s team is even stronger than last year’s.

“Our attack is on another level this year,” Hazard said. “We have a lot of forward power and a lot of depth on our forward line, so we’re expecting a lot of goals this year.”

Part of that increase in speed comes from the incoming freshmen, who have played several minutes already in the new season. Among those new freshmen is forward Lucy Cooper, who currently leads the team with four goals through four games.

Asked about her early success, Cooper emphasized the need for sustained performance.

“I’ve gotten off to a better start than I expected, but I’ve got to keep it going,” Cooper said. “I can’t drop off after the four games.”

For all of the hype surrounding Cooper and the other forwards, the team only managed two goals in two losses over the weekend. Weinberg pointed to the weak offensive output as an area to improve moving forward.

“I definitely think we need to work on converting, we had great stats against Stanford but we just couldn’t quite finish as much as we needed to in order to win that game,” Weinberg said. “But we’re getting the shots on goal, we’re getting the circle entries, now we just need to convert. It’s been different things we need to work on with different games, but as long as we continue to work on our scoring opportunities – we’ve been getting the opportunities, now we just need to capitalize and put it in the back of the net.”

Despite the stumbles over the weekend, the team is 2-2 and has put forth a strong showing in all four games. This early in the season, performance holds almost equal weight to wins and losses and the early returns have been promising.

“It was great to have a good matchup against Stanford, but I think the biggest thing coming out of that game is the team realized that we can play with teams ranked in the top fifteen,” coach Weinberg said. “We had better stats with our goal opportunities and our penalty corner opportunities, so the team knows now that they can play with teams like that and beat teams like that.”

Inevitably, last year’s season-ending loss to Maryland hangs over this team, even with a new coach and a number of new players. Rather than avoiding it, the team is looking at it as a launching point for a better 2017.

“We lost in the first round of the tournament, but our performance outweighed anything else,” Hawkshaw said. “We really put it up to the second-ranked team in the country. We can’t really look at the loss, we need to look at how we played, and I think if we did that again, the scores will take care of themselves.”

“They definitely were upset by that first-round loss against Maryland last year and I’ve used that as fueling the fire,” Weinberg added. “Reminding them every day that, yeah, that loss hurt, but they’re this close to getting to that next step.”

Thomas Haines can be reached at thaines@umass.edu.

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