Youth will dictate Minutewomen in 2011

By Scott Cournoyer

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The Massachusetts women’s soccer team will have a different philosophy in 2011 than it has had in past seasons.

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

After losing standout forward Therese Smith to graduation, UMass head coach Ed Matz plans to spread the ball around among the returning veterans, hoping to fill the void left by Smith the team’s second-leading scorer.

“Therese was such a dynamic player for us on both ends of the field,” said Matz. “We centered our attack on putting the ball in her hands and allowing her to move it up and down the field. This year, things will be different and other players are going to have to step up to replace the production left behind.”

The squad  will welcome 10 freshmen and a handful of transfers Matz is  hoping will contribute on both ends of the field. One in particular, Moa Mattsson,  a current member of the U19 Swedish National Team, is poised to make an impact immediately for UMass.

“Moa is a tremendous player, even at such a young age,” said Matz of the  midfielder. “She’s already learning that the game is played at a faster pace here in America, especially at the collegiate level. There’s a big adjustment to be made by her coming in and having to learn everything as she goes along, but she’s very talented, and we’re happy to have her.”

Other freshmen expected to make noise this season are forwards Tori Sousa and Alex Farris, and defender CJ Johnson.

The Maroon and White will see two of its top three goal scorers and point-earners return this year. Senior and co-captain Deanna Colarossi, who tabbed a team-high nine goals and two assists last season, will be counted on to carry the UMass offense as the squad’s most potent offensive threat.

“Deanna was huge for us last year, but we need her to come back and continue her success,” Matz said. “Even though we’re going to be looking to spread the ball around more amongst other players, we’re still going to need her to lead the charge for us, getting up and down the field and communicating.”

“She’s looked great so far, and I know she can continue it going forward,” Matz added.

While some veteran leadership carries over from last season, the Minutewomen will count on their new players to hit the ground running. Tori Sousa is one of them. A native of Nashua, N.H., she totaled 21 goals in her high school career, including 11  as a senior at Nashua North Senior High School.

“Tori has a lot of skills that translate to many areas on the field,” Matz said. “She’s a good player, and I expect her to help contribute over the course of the season.”

Other notable forwards returning are sophomore Jen Houtmann (three assists in ‘10) and senior Natalie Muka.

One strategy UMass is pushing this season is increased passing in the midfield area.

“One part of spreading the ball around is having more people touch the ball around the field, especially in the midfield,” Matz said. “Last year, it was all about pushing the ball up the field fast, allowing our talented players to get by defenders. This year will be a little different. We will look to have more touches to create plays for everyone.”

In order to make this pass-oriented philosophy a reality, skilled midfielders are essential. Matz has identified a few key players who he hopes will help implement this strategy, including newcomers Cecilia Jensen and Julie Morrissey. Morrissey is a senior transfer from Cincinnati who tallied three goals last season, including two game-winners. She will be joined in the midfield by Jensen a sophomore transfer from Elon.  “Julie has a really good instinct with the ball in her possession, and I think that she will be a great addition for us this year,” said Matz.

Other midfield returners include junior Meredith Fox and senior Erin McGaffigan. McGaffigan started seven games and recorded two assists last year.

The defense might be the most pivotal part of UMass’s game this fall. With two players who saw time in at least 15 games last year, Matz said that he is emphasizing how important it is for the defense to  remain strong in 2011. The Minutewomen will look to senior Lindsey DiOrio to lead the defense, as she played in 15 games last season, tallying seven shots on net.

“One thing we’ve really emphasized this year is everyone getting back on defense and contributing at that end of the field,” said Matz. “It’s going to be really important for everyone to contribute there, because if everyone does, it will make each game that much easier for us.”

Also returning is junior Jess Howe, who started 17 games last season and notched  two assists.

New players who could look to gain playing time include Kristen Gargiulo and Kelsey Varzeas.

Going into the year, Matz knew that he had a competition for the starting goalkeeper position, one that he says is “still a toss-up because of the heavy competition and quality of the talents on the team.”

Junior Emily Cota, who started 13 games behind the net last season, will compete for the job against transfers Stephanie Gordon, a junior who led Northeastern to its first Colonial Athletic Association title in school history in ’09, and Millbury-native Erin Ronan, a sophomore who transferred after one year at Saint Peter’s College.

“All of the players competing for the starting spot are really great options,” said Matz. “They each bring a lot to the table with great experience behind them. I expect each of them to compete hard for the job, but to support each other going forward. It should be really good to see.”

Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected]