Increase in offense a must for UMass

By Michael Wood

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Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, but unfortunately for the Massachusetts field hockey team, that’s exactly what has been lacking in its play this season.

“The area that we’re most concerned about right now is our goal-scoring ability,” UMass coach Justine Sowry said. “That’s our focus this week and hopefully we see some returns on that this weekend.”

The Minutewomen have managed just eight goals in eight games in 2010. Senior forward Katie Kelly has accounted for 62.5 percent of the offense this season, recording five scores. Two goals from freshman Lindsay Bowman and one from senior Jamie Bourazeris make up the remaining goal production.

The top teams in the conference are typically those with a potent and relentless offensive attack. This season, Temple leads the Atlantic 10 with an offense that has tallied 17 goals in the same number of games as the Minutewomen.

Part of the problem for UMass is how it starts games. To have a successful high-flying offense, it is essential to score within the first few minutes of play. If nothing else, it gets the players excited about an early lead and can lead to more aggressive play throughout the game.

“We’ve really only played two good games,” Sowry said. “The rest of them we’ve come out really slow. To come out of the gates quickly is something we’re trying to do this weekend. If you can get on the board early, the space can open up and the floodgates can open up more.”

With Vermont and Albany looming this weekend, the Minutewomen feel like they have a good chance to win if they get off to a fast start. The Catamounts in particular have been outshot, outscored and out-cornered in every game thus far and start out especially slow in the first half.

“The second we step up on the field we have to try to create a lot of energy so we don’t come out flat,” Kelly said. “That’s been our problem the past few games, maybe not respecting our opponents enough or maybe respecting them too much and playing too timid. We need to go at them right from the start and the best way to do that is keeping the energy up.”

Another crucial part of UMass’ offense is its penalty corner unit, which takes over any time there is a foul in the opponent’s scoring zone. Both Kelly and Sowry agree that the unit has tremendous potential, but that it has somewhat underachieved, letting the defense dictate how it plays.

“We’ve been working on winning the corners,” Kelly said. “That’s something that’s going to be really important to us because we do have such a strong penalty corner unit. If we can win those corners we’ll be able to generate a lot more goals from it.”

Vermont defender Alana Izzo leads the America East in defensive saves and certainly will not make it easy for the Minutewomen to move into scoring position. Behind her, goalkeeper Brooke Crane is first in saves, tied for second in shutouts and third in save percentage in the conference.

“We’ll have to go around [Izzo] so she’s not able to get the tackles and hopefully get some penalty corners too,” Kelly said.

Sowry acknowledged that both Vermont and Albany will be hard-fought games, but if the Minutewomen execute the way they have in practice and stay hungry on offense, they will put themselves in a good position to win both games.

“Starts are important,” Sowry said. “But if we don’t get one early it’s sticking to the gameplan, sticking to the process and getting into the right positions. It may not come immediately but you’ve got to stay poised and composed and it will happen eventually.”

Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected]