Minutewomen gets rematch with Syracuse on Saturday

By Mike Gillmeister

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fhockAThe goalkeeper position personifies the heart of a defense. Not only is the goalie the last line of defense on the field but also the one directing other defenders on the field.

The Massachusetts field hockey team faces two opponents this weekend in No. 6 Syracuse and Yale whose goalies are among the nation’s best, but UMass goalie Alesha Widdall can’t be forgotten, either.

Widdall ranks eighth in the nation with a .809 save percentage, allowing nine goals in 608 minutes this season. Leann Stiver of the Orange (9-1) has a .800 save percentage after giving up six goals in almost 250 minutes, fewer than Widdall.

Stiver’s goals-against average in six games at home is .666 but Widdall is even better on the road. In four games away from Garber Field this season, she gave up one goal and made 10 saves.

The last time the Minutewomen (7-2) faced Syracuse at J.S. Coyne Stadium, the Orange beat UMass in the opening round of the 2008 NCAA tournament, 3-2 and Syracuse won prior to that at Garber Field, 5-4.

In the game at Garber Field, Shannon Taylor got the best of Widdall, scoring two goals on the then-freshman. However, Taylor graduated last spring. Minutewoman forwards Jill Powers (2) and Cher King (1) each had goals in that game and both expect to see significant time against Syracuse. So far this season, the duo account for four goals and six assists.

“I don’t think we were mentally prepared for the first game,” said UMass coach Justine Sowry. “In terms of getting motivated for Syracuse, it’ll all comes from within. I don’t think we need any exterior motivation from me at all. The girls are really looking forward to playing them again.”

Junior Katie Kelly and Makaela Potts are two leaders on the team who should play important roles this weekend as well. Kelly leads UMass with six goals and Potts has a team-leading six assists to go along with her four goals.

Twelve on-field warnings for excessively physical play this season show that the Orange are a physical team and that they will try and force their way into the circle to get their shots and potentially force penalty corners, an area where Syracuse excels.

SU has 85 corners so far this season, compared to the Minutewomen’s 58. Seven of UMass’ 23 goals came from penalty corners.

Widdall believes that UMass’ finesse style of play can combat the Orange.

“We can outlet the ball very well and when they’re in the circle we need to step up and be more aggressive,” Widdall said.

The Bulldogs (5-3) aren’t necessarily as aggressive as Syracuse or even UMass but they score an average of two goals per game on the road this season; led by forward Ashley McCauley’s eight goals and midfielder Ashley Cantor’s 10 assists. Midfielder/backs Erin Carter and Marissa Waldemore each have three goals this season.

To stop someone who sees the field as well as Cantor means stopping a player who makes everyone around them play better. She has an assist in all but one of Yale’s eight games this season, including three games in which the Bulldogs won by two goals or less.

While it makes it difficult to stop a team when one player is so effective yet unselfish, Cantor does have glaring tendencies.

Four of McCauley’s goals came by way of an assist from Cantor. Naturally, McCauley needs a body on her at all times during the game because she is the Bulldog’s most obvious scoring threat, but even more so does Cantor. Taking McCauley out of the game only allows Cantor to find more teammates for scores, but making Cantor a non-factor forces other players to outlet the ball and only Julia Weiser has more than three assists on the season.

Yale’s goals-against total on the road is two as well and Katie Bolling and Charlotte Goins split time in goal with Bolling spending more time between the pipes than Goins.

The two goalies account for 21 saves on the road. The Bulldogs featured the freshman Bolling as the primary goalie in their previous two games so she should see more time over Goins this weekend if not the entire game.

Mike Gillmeister can be reached at [email protected]