Minutewomen open A-10 play with Dayton, Xavier

By Jeffrey Okerman

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With non-conference play behind it, the Massachusetts women’s soccer team is now looking forward to opening Atlantic 10 competition against Dayton this afternoon.

The A-10 opener is a rematch of the conference’s championship game in 2011. The Flyers (6-3) overran the Minutewomen (5-5), claiming the title as 5-1 winners.

UMass coach Ed Matz has been preparing his team for this match ever since that demolition that put an end to its 2011 season.

“I think preparation for this game kind of started the minute after we lost the championship last year,” Matz said. “Having said that, I think what has prepared us for this match against Dayton is the schedule that we’ve played (to this point).”

The Minutewomen are coming off a 1-0 win over Siena on Sunday, courtesy of the team’s leading scorer Moa Mattsson. It was the penultimate match of their non-conference schedule where wins were collected against New Hampshire, Boston University, Albany and Bryant.

Among those wins were losses to three nationally ranked teams: No. 6 UCLA, No. 17 Wake Forest, and No. 11 Virginia Tech. Matz believes those matches taught his team a lot.

“What they have exposed us to offensively and how we had to match up with them defensively has prepared us to play Dayton,” Matz said.

Ed Matz Previews Dayton Game

A majority of Matz’s squad is made up of first and second year players, yet there remain players who took part in the disappointing defeat to Dayton. Matz believes that by now the “sting of losing” has since healed over, but the game still remains meaningful for similar reasons.

“The sting of the disappointment of losing has evaporated,” Matz said. “But losing in the championship is never easy to swallow. So I think it is on some of our players’ minds, but with a lot of first year players they don’t know any different.

“I think this game means a lot more to us than it does to Dayton.”

The Flyers bring a squad that boasts strength up front with a strike force that includes Colleen Williams, who Matz labels as one of the conference’s best players. Williams registered a hat trick in last season’s finale, and has been in form this season with seven goals to go along with six assists.

Dayton has also found several goals coming from the midfield. Juliana Libertin has slotted in seven goals with five assists, picking up where she left off last season, with three assists in the championship. Freshman Ashley Campbell has scored five goals in her debut campaign.

The firepower that the Flyers bring has not gone unnoticed by Matz.

“As good as the teams that we’ve faced this year have been, I don’t think that they’ve had such dangerous strikes as Dayton do,” Matz said. “We have to concentrate on limiting their shots. If we allow them to turn, face up and shoot like the A-10 tournament last year, it could be a long day for us.”

Sunday brings a team in Xavier that hasn’t visited Rudd Field since 2008, when it lost that encounter, 1-0. The Musketeers (5-4-1) were unable to qualify for last year’s A-10 tournament, and there was no regular season contest with the Minutewomen.

Matz recognizes the challenge that follows the Dayton matchup, but is reluctant to stray from a “one game at a time” mentality.

“My philosophy is that, at this point, we haven’t even talked about Xavier, at all,” Matz said. “It’s just one game at a time in the A-10 and the same would be true if the Dayton game was on Sunday.”

The last time UMass faced the Musketeers was in 2010, when that was the case, as they came away with a 3-0 victory at the XU Soccer Complex, before being blown out by Dayton later that weekend, 5-0.

Xavier opens its A-10 campaign on the road to Rhode Island, before making its way to Amherst to face off with the Minutewomen.

Matz admits, however, that while there may be a lack of knowledge of the Xavier squad, he expects his team to be ready for the game.

“We don’t know a great deal about Xavier, we just know they have improved with the coach they have had there for a couple of years now,” Matz said. “Last time we played them it was a difficult test for us.”

Junior forward Mariah Whitaker leads the line for the Musketeers, having registered three goals to go along with three assists over the team’s first 10 outings. However, with the Dayton game preceding the Xavier game this afternoon, the UMass defense should be suitably prepared for a toned down attack.

Key for the Sunday match will be energy, Matz pointed out, acknowledging that the team that “brings the most energy on Sunday is in the best position to win.”

The weekend begins for the Minutewomen at 4 p.m. today at Rudd Field, before an early Sunday afternoon encounter at 1 p.m., also at home.

Jeffrey Okerman can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Okerman.