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UMass field hockey defeats VCU to advance to A-10 championship

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts field hockey team defeated Virginia Commonwealth 2-0 on Friday in the semifinal round of the Atlantic 10 championship to advance to the championship game against Saint Joseph’s on Saturday.

UMass (13-7, 7-2 A-10) suffocated the VCU offense, allowing only two shots on goal for the game. The Minutewomen offense showed improvement in their passing and ball control, limiting turnovers and preventing the Rams from making a comeback.

“Our defense has been strong all year long,” coach Barb Weinberg said. “What was better today was our possession coming out of the backfield. So, we’ve been working on our outletting the past few weeks and today we finally pulled it together to just play simple on our buildup, and we were turning the ball over less today.”

Midfielder Sophie de Jonge scored the first goal, deflecting in a penalty corner shot in the 25th minute to give UMass a lead it would not surrender.

“We focused on that [penalty corners] all year long,” de Jonge said. “Most goals are from corners, and we try to tip. I was going to tip it today, and I scored my first goal. So it was awesome.”

Forward Grace Horgan added an insurance goal in the 50th minute with a deflection from the back post. Weinberg said executing that play had been a focus in practice.

“We did hundreds and hundreds of reps this week of hitting from the top of the circle and being on the far post to tip it in,” Weinberg said. “And as we know in sport, it takes hundreds of reps to convert one time and we did that today.”

On the other end, the Minutewomen managed to shut down VCU forward Emily McNamara, who led the A-10 in goals in the regular season. McNamara managed five shots, but just one on goal.

“She’s a very skilled player in their attacking third,” Weinberg said. “If you allow her time and space, she’s going to get a shot off and it’s going to be a dangerous shot. So, part of our game plan was to deny her of the ball, which our backfield did very well today.”

In addition to shutting down VCU’s offense, UMass repeatedly forced key turnovers in the midfield to control the ball. Weinberg credited the midfielders for executing the possession strategy that dominated the game.

“We had a very specific pressing game plan,” Weinberg said, “but we really needed our midfield to step up and get those intercepts so we were able to counterattack, and I think today that was key for us. And then again, also our outletting, being able to build the ball and just play simple. We had a lot of great passing patterns today.”

After the win, UMass moves on to the A-10 championship game against Saint Joseph’s, which will also be at Gladchuk Sports Complex. Saint Joseph’s, which beat Richmond 7-2 earlier on Friday, defeated the Minutewomen two weeks ago with an offensive surge in the second half.

“We definitely need to come out strong for 70 minutes against them,” Weinberg said. “We had a great first half against them the first time we played, dropped off a bit in the second half. So we’re going to have to play them strong all game long.”

UMass will look to use today’s victory over VCU to prepare for the game plan it might see from Saint Joseph’s.

“VCU put a lot of pressure on us, they have several very talented players,” Weinberg said. “We’re going to see that same type of pressure from St. Joe’s tomorrow, so we need to keep that intensity up.”

This will mark the first time the Minutewomen have played on consecutive days this season. The quick turnaround means that the players are placing more emphasis on recovery going into tomorrow’s game.

“We just start where we start, and that’s the recovery from today,” de Jonge said. “So just going to take some ice baths, get water, eat good, some meetings tonight. We’ll just be ourselves and we’re going to win.”

The A-10 championship game is set to begin at 2 p.m. Saturday in Amherst.

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

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