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UMass field hockey enters final road trip of 2017

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts field hockey team plays its last two road games of the season this weekend, facing Saint Louis on Friday, before a Sunday match with No. 8 Northwestern.

After two victories last weekend against Virginia Commonwealth and Providence, UMass (10-4, 4-1 Atlantic 10) sits in second place in the A-10 conference and cracked the NCAA Top 25 rankings for the first time in nearly six weeks, slotting in at No. 24.

“I feel really good about it,” senior forward Nicole Kuerzi said about the rise in the standings. “The VCU game on Friday was amazing. I thought that was a great place for our team to go off of. Our goal on Sunday was to improve from the performance on Friday, and we did that. Providence is a really good team, and it was good to play some good hockey against a good team and improve our performance.”

The upcoming opponents stand in stark contrast. Saint Louis is well below .500 at 4-8, while Northwestern is ranked No. 9 in the country with a 10-4 record. Despite that, coach Barb Weinberg emphasized that the Saint Louis game would still be a challenge.

“They’re going to be two vastly different opponents,” Weinberg said. “Against Saint Louis, they are a more well-structured team than they have been in the past, and that’s credit to the new coaching staff that they have in there. We are looking to limit our turnovers, because they’ve had a couple of games this season in which they’ve really capitalized on the other team’s turnovers and been able to score some goals. So we’re going to try to keep possession coming out of the backfield.”

The game against the Billikens takes on additional importance because it is a conference matchup. The Minutewomen are second in the A-10 and are looking to secure a place in the A-10 tournament in three weeks with a game against A-10 leader and No. 21 Saint Joseph’s looming the following weekend.

“We feel good about where we are,” Weinberg said. “We know that we absolutely have to take care of the Saint Louis game and then move on to our preparation for Saint Joseph’s the following week. They’re a strong side this year, so it’s going to be very evenly contested.”

On Sunday, UMass heads to Northwestern to face off against its first ranked opponent since an ugly 8-0 loss against UConn on Oct. 1.

“With UConn, it was a matter of us not being versatile with our defensive tactics,” Weinberg said. “It was working for us the first ten or fifteen minutes, so we’re definitely going to have a few things to make us more versatile against Northwestern up our sleeve.”

“We know what we have to do against a tough opponent,” Kuerzi added. “We actually play better against good teams. UConn was not our best performance at all, and we’re definitely not trying to repeat that, but we learned a lot from that game.”

The fallout from the UConn game was evident last weekend. UMass came out stronger on both sides of the ball, pulling out a crucial 4-2 conference victory against VCU and a tight 1-0 win over Providence. Still, the Minutewomen are looking to improve down the stretch, especially with the A-10 tournament on the horizon.

“We definitely missed a bunch of opportunities against Providence,” Kuerzi said. “That game could have been 4-1 pretty easily. We need to work on our tips, our finishing and getting more outcomes, because we only had two corners on Sunday.”

The game with Saint Louis begins at 6 p.m. Friday, then the Minutewomen face a quick turnaround for their 12 p.m. start against Northwestern on Sunday.

Weinberg said that the schedule shouldn’t pose any problems.

“We’ll probably have a couple extra recovery sessions on Saturday,” Weinberg said. “Probably try to get a pool workout in to make sure we’re recovering in time for our Sunday game. We’ve got a four-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Saint Louis to Northwestern, but we should have plenty of recovery time in between.”

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

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