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UMass field hockey enters critical weekend of play

(Katherine Mayo/ Collegian)

Two important games await the Massachusetts field hockey team this weekend, starting with a home game against Atlantic 10 opponent La Salle Friday, before an away game against top-ranked Connecticut on Sunday.

UMass is 7-3 midway through the year and holds a 2-1 record in the A-10 after splitting a two-game road trip against two conference opponents last weekend. The Minutewomen’s 1-0 loss to Saint Francis Sept. 22 marked their first conference loss of the year.

“One of our team goals was certainly to be undefeated in A-10 play,” UMass coach Barb Weinberg said. “We lost to Saint Francis on Friday, so that goal is not there anymore. But we’re moving forward with our other goal which is to place well in the A-10 tournament so we can win the A-10 tournament. So, every A-10 game matters from this point on, and no other goal is any different than it was in the beginning of the season.”

The Minutewomen have five A-10 games remaining in 2017, with their first contest coming Friday against the Explorers (5-3). UMass is focused on execution heading into Friday’s game, following two disappointing offensive showings last weekend.

“I feel like the offense is definitely creating opportunities,” Weinberg said. “But we’ve got to put the ball in the back of the net. So that’s the second step we’re working on.”

The Minutewomen’s struggles on offense are a recurring theme from last season. UMass is averaging 2.3 goals per game, below last year’s average of three goals per game. Over a third of the Minutewomen’s goals this season came in an 8-3 season-opening win against Holy Cross August 25. In its previous nine games, UMass only scored an average of 1.67 goals per game.

Senior forward Sarah Hawkshaw, the team’s leading scorer, attributed the low scoring output to failure to finish in the circle.

“I think being clinical and getting results in the circle is a huge point, especially goals,” Hawkshaw said. “I think both games we had fifteen shots, something like that. We outshot both teams and we only barely beat one of them, lost the other game, so I think that’s a huge point of emphasis.”

Another difficulty for the Minutewomen has been converting opportunities on the sides of the field.

“A lot of times we’re numbers up in that corner,” Weinberg said. “So we’re working on how to create opportunities from our numbers-up situation and being able to capitalize them.”

Following the defeat last weekend, the game against La Salle has taken on greater importance.

“Hugely important,” Hawkshaw said of the upcoming game. “The fact that we lost one early on in our A-10 play, it only means that we have to win every other game to secure our place in the A-10 championship, which we obviously want to win again this year.”

UMass then travels to Connecticut for a daunting matchup against UConn, who’s undefeated and currently the top-ranked team in the NCAA. This will be the Minutewomen’s third game against a ranked opponent this year, after a 3-1 loss against Stanford Sept. 3 and a 2-1 win over Boston University Sept. 10.

Well aware of the challenge that awaits, the coaches are already diversifying their strategy.

“We are going to work on a variety of different situations versus UConn,” Weinberg said. “I think we need to have more variety in our press to be able to handle them in certain minutes of the game, so we’re going to come out with a little bit more variety in our presentation against UConn.”

Until Friday, however, the main focus remains La Salle. Although the Explorers have a strong team, Weinberg indicated that UMass controls its own destiny.

“La Salle is always a tough opponent. They’re gritty, they’re going to fight for every inch and we just need to break down their pressing and outletting a bit more to find team tactics to work around that,” she said. “We’re going to go into this game focusing on the process just like we have every other game, and if we execute the game plan we’ve put forth, we’re going to be just fine against our opponent.”

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

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