Last weekend’s highly anticipated Homecoming games did not disappoint the student masses and alumni here to see UMass victories.
The Massachusetts women’s soccer team, more concerned with getting their season back on track than extending the weekend successes, achieved both as they defeated Rhode Island, 3-2, at home on Saturday.
The Minutewomen’s (4-8-2, 3-4-0 Atlantic 10) goals came from one likely player and one not so likely. Junior Therese Smith’s high frequency in contributing to goals this year continued, as she netted the game-winner with under three minutes left to play in regulation. However, if not for senior forward Christina Adams’ two goals, UMass may not have been in position for any late-game heroics. Contributions from players other than Smith and redshirt junior Sydney Stoll have been few and far between, and UMass coach Angela Napoli understands the importance of having a balanced attack.
“At this point in the season, (having other players) score goals is huge,” Napoli said. “It gives us more diversity on the attack and it causes other teams to focus on more than just two players.”
Adams’ first goal came soon after the first 20 minutes of play, which were controlled mostly by Rhode Island (4-10-1, 2-5-0 A-10). Adams received a cross-pass from junior Ashley Hamel on the left flank and redirected the ball over Rams goalkeeper Brooke Messier. The Rams tied the game at one apiece in the 53rd minute on a shot initially saved by freshman goalkeeper Emily Cota. The shot ricocheted of the crossbar and Cota brought it down, but a scramble in front jarred the ball loose and forced it into the net.
Cota kept the game tied by saving several shots in the next few minutes, which allowed Adams to put UMass ahead with another goal. With just over 10 minutes left to play, sophomore midfielder Lauren Yelinik fed the ball up for Adams who chipped it over Messier to take the lead once again.
Rhode Island answered with just under five minutes left to play to tie the game at two.
“It was such a battle. Everytime we scored they found a way to get back in the game,” Napoli said. “Our players played their hearts out and found a way to win the game.”
Less than a minute after relinquishing the lead, UMass put the final exclamation point on the back-and-forth game on a goal from Smith. Smith weaved her way through several defenders and placed her shot into the top right corner of the net.
The Rams were far from discouraged, however, and continued their aggressive play in the few remaining seconds. A key blocked shot from UMass’ defense and a big save from Cota paved the way for a Minutewomen victory.
“Our defense played well especially at the end when Rhode Island would not stop coming at us,” Napoli said. “The Rams are a good team who hit hard and use their bodies well. Emily came up with a few great saves, one in the first half off a cross and a couple in the second half.”
Redshirt junior midfielder Meghan Ghould had her hands full throughout the game, defending the aggressive, one-on-one styled Rams.
“Defensively, Ghould had a great game,” Napoli said. “As far as dealing with the physicality of the other team, this has been the best I’ve seen her all year.”
Despite being outshot 20-8 in the match, the Minutewomen made the most of their scoring chances, something the team practiced all week.
“Statistically, yes it would be nice to get more shots, but we’ll take the win any day,” Napoli said. “It’s always nice to get the shots but it’s really what you do with them that counts.”
The win this weekend was just what the Minutewomen were looking for and are still confident that they can secure one of the six spots the A-10 tournament has to offer.
UMass will next travel to Xavier on Friday, where it will look to add to its three conference wins. The Musketeers (2-13-1, 1-6-1 A-10) are a team that UMass can’t afford to take a loss from at this stage of the season.
“Our kids are excited now. Rhode Island was an intense game that took a lot out of us, but we’re ready to move on,” Napoli said. “A win against Xavier would boost us from having an outside chance to a good chance to make the tournament.”
Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]