Seniors come away with tournament birth on Senior Day

By Steve Levine

On Sunday, Senior Day was either going to knock the Massachusetts women’s soccer team out of playoff contention, or put them in it.

Fortunately for the Minutewomen, the latter prevailed as they defeated Richmond, 1-0, locking up the sixth and final spot in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Aside from a playoff possibility, Sunday’s match against the Spiders included another important storyline: it would be the last regular season game for seniors Katie Ruggles, Jacquelyn Desjardins, Lauren Luckey and Cristina Adams. Had they lost, it could have been their last game entirely in a UMass uniform. Fortunately for the seniors, another shutout effort by Luckey and Cota coupled with sophomore midfielder Lauren Yelinik’s first collegiate goal paved the way for UMass’ first tournament appearance since 2004.

The two wins, however were not entirely enough to put UMass in the tournament; they needed some help. Following the match, UMass’ attention quickly turned to the Duquesne/La Salle game, which would ultimately decide whether or not the Minutewomen would secure the sixth and final spot in the tournament. With that in mind, the seniors reflected on their years sporting the maroon and white.

 “It went by fast but my time here at UMass meant so much, words can’t even explain it,” Ruggles said. “We went through some hard times but you always have teammates by your side.”

Ruggles’ career at UMass began in 2006 as a freshman when she played in eleven games and registered a handful of shots. In 2007, she played in 16 games while starting 15 in the midfield where she accumulated a goal and two assists, good for seventh on the team in points. As a junior last season, Ruggles was converted to a full-time defender. This year, Ruggles started 15 of 16 games, recording six shots and a goal. The goal came on her 21st birthday and saved UMass from a loss, instead taking a tie against Hartford.

For Jacquelyn Desjardins, her soccer career at UMass was highlighted by her teammates.

 “I came in as a walk-on and I’ve really grown as a player and as a person because of it,” she said. “It’s been awesome becoming close with people I wouldn’t have known had it not been for soccer. These girls are like my family.”

Desjardins walked on the team in 2006 when former head coach Jim Rudy stood at the helm. This year, Jacquelyn played in 14 games and recorded an assist against Saint Joseph’s on September 25 in the midst of UMass’ five-game unbeaten streak.

Lauren Luckey offered further insight into the camaraderie she’s felt with her teammates.

“It was really fun growing up together [with these girls],” Luckey said. “We came in as freshmen when we were all really little…the time just flew by.”

Luckey’s UMass career took off in 2007, when the sophomore goaltender was named Most Improved Player at the end-of-year banquet. She played in eight games, starting four, and posted a 2-3 record with a 1.36 goals against average and 0.879 save percentage. In her first collegiate appearance she recorded a win, which was also Jim Rudy’s 300th career victory. As a junior last year, Luckey played every minute of every game, recording a 1.05 GAA, an .825 save percentage, and a 6-9-3 record. This year, Luckey was forced to split time in goal with Cota, but still put up impressive numbers. On a team reliant on their goaltending, Luckey recorded a 3-3-0 record with a 1.38 GAA and an .833 save percentage.

Like her senior teammates, Cristina Adams had never played in the tournament and is not taking it for granted.

“This is the highlight right here,” Adams said. “The fact that we made the tournament is really big.

Adams’ collegiate career also took flight as a sophomore in 2007, when she played in eleven games. She recorded three goals (one game-winner) and three assists which placed her amongst the team leaders in those categories. This year, she played in 16 games and had the biggest game of her career on Oct. 17, when her two goals guided the Minutewomen to victory against rival Rhode Island.

The contributions of all four players on and off the field have not been overlooked by UMass coach Angela Napoli who, in her first year as head coach, is in the tournament.

“The seniors are great players and great people,” Napoli said. “It’s always nice to have complete people around who are good players, people, and students. Their personalities have added so much to our team this year.”

Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]