Napoli and Co. look for first win

By Mike Mastone

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903_7960The University of Massachusetts women’s soccer team will travel to Hartford tonight in hopes of jumpstarting their stagnant offense and giving Angela Napoli her first victory as head coach of the Minutewomen.

“I think our morale is still high” UMass coach Jessica Napoli said. “Every game we play better and better and get better opportunities.”

The Hawks (3-3), coming off a 5-2 win over rival Central Connecticut, feature an offensive that can explode at the drop of a dime. 

In wins over Iona and Central Connecticut, Hartford scored all nine of their goals in the second half.

The Hawks feature the talented quartet of redshirts, senior Laura Guigli, junior Mary Beth, sophomore Breanna Robinson and freshman Alex Uscilla. Uscilla has had a breakout rookie campaign, leading the Hawks with eight points on three goals and two assists, while Hamilton has already surpassed her totals form last season, scoring two goals and three assists. 

Robinson, an America East All-Conference Second Team and All-Rookie Team selection last season, is arguably the best player remaining from last year’s squad.  In six games, she has chipped in one goal and two assists. Guigli is also off to a solid start in her final season, tallying six points on two goals and two assists.

Despite what their record may indicate, UMass (0-4-1) has been playing very well on the defensive end.  The goalkeeping duo of senior Lauren Luckey and freshman Emily Cota has been stepped up during the team’s offensive woes, combining for 36 saves while allowing just six goals on 114 attempts.

“They are very equal, and they each have their strengths and their weaknesses, so, we know that whoever we have in net, we know what to expect,” Napoli said.

However, the Minutewomen’s defensive efforts will go unnoticed unless its offense starts to produce.  In a tie with New Hampshire, the Minutewomen tried to improve their offensive gameplan, raising their season-high in shots for the third consecutive game (23 attempts). 

Forward Sydney Stoll seems poised to lead the Minutewomen after missing all of last season and part of 2007 with an injury.  The redshirt junior leads the team in shots with eight and is tied for second with two shots on goal.  If she returns to her pre-injury form (she notched six goals and three assists in 11 games in 2007), Stoll could prove to be just the offensive threat UMass needs.

“Every time we step out there it feels like we add another piece to the puzzle,” Napoli said. “We all feel it is just a matter of time (before we score).”

 Along with Stoll, the Minutewomen will also need Therese Smith, the team’s second leading scorer from a year ago, to help guide the team out of its scoring slump.  Smith has attempted seven shots thus far, two of which have been on goal. 

The Minutewomen have several young athletes who could prove to be contributors down the stretch.  Lauren Yelinek, a sophomore transfer from Texas Tech, proved in her freshman season that she can be a very effective passer by notching six assists in 13 games. 

Freshmen Meredith Fox and Jess Howe have started all five games this season, with Fox attempting three shots and Howe contributing on defense.

Tonight’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Yousuf Al-Marzook Athletic Field in West Hartford, CT.

Mike Mastone can be reached at [email protected]