Justine Sowry, Alesha Widdall go international

By Mike Gillmeister

In recent years, members of the Massachusetts women’s field hockey team who have participated in international play have faired better when returning to college.

Most recently, sophomore goalkeeper Alesha Widdall and UMass coach Justine Sowry both took part in the 2009 Junior World Cup, held at Harvard’s Jordan Field in Boston.

The United States Junior National Team earned a spot in the competition with a gold medal-winning performance at the Junior Pan-Am Cup in Mexico City. The U.S. defeated Chile, 2-1, for the title and a subsequent World Cup berth.

Team U.S.A. finished the tournament third in its pool (2-3) and eighth overall.

“It was an amazing experience,” Sowry said of being an assistant coach for the U.S. in Boston.

“I always love working with the U.S.A. I love working at the elite level and have learned so much in the last four months with the new rule changes in place. I’ve probably learned more in the last four months than I have in the last eight years.”

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) is currently implementing an amendment to the Free Hit Rule. Now, a player may hit the ball to themselves during a free hit by hitting the ball in one action and committing a second separate action to play the ball downfield.

With the new rule in place, games should progress at two or three times its speed before the rule change.

Collegiate umpires have attended various clinics throughout the course of the past year to understand how to better implement the rule during games.

Widdall had little trouble adjusting to the accelerated speed of play this summer.

The U.S. earned a 4-0 win against Chile in her only time in front of the net.

When she returned from the Pan-Am Cup last season, Widdall became more confident in goal and employed a more refined skill set.

She commanded the defense with less hesitation, calling out more plays and sorting the backs to her comfort area. When the offense didn’t take over games, Widdall kept the Minutewomen afloat.

Upon her return from international play last season, she played in four one-goal games, winning three of them, including two overtime games against conference opponents. The only UMass loss in games decided by one goal came in its final game of the season – a rematch against Syracuse.

In her first game against the Orange, Widdall allowed five goals at home – four in the first half alone. The rematch came at Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Widdall allowed three goals while making nine saves, but the Orange defense limited UMass to four shots on goal, compared to 13 by Syracuse.

After Widdall’s latest tournament against international opponents, Sowry noted that her goalie had again made strides in becoming a better player.

“She’s in the best shape she’s ever been in,” Sowry said.

“Her knowledge of the game has tripled at least. [Her experience] is great for our program because we have players on our team who are striving to make the U.S. team. [With] more players, we can get to make it to the highest level possible. I know the team’s going to do well.”

Mike Gillmeister can be reached at [email protected]