Minutewomen close out season with postseason aspirations

By Jeffrey Okerman

With the conclusion of October comes the conclusion of the regular season for the Massachusetts women’s soccer team as the Minutewomen take to the road in search of an Atlantic 10 playoff berth.

The UMass (8-8-1, 3-3-1 A-10) squad travels first to St. Bonaventure on Friday and then down to Pittsburgh to face-off with Duquesne on Sunday.

The weekend series will be crucial for all involved. The Bonnies (6-10-1, 3-4-0 A-10), at nine points, trail the Minutewomen by just a single point in the A-10 table and currently hold the seventh seed. St. Bonaventure also comes into the weekend level on points with Rhode Island and Fordham, who will also be vying for tournament berths over the weekend.

The Minutewomen have been strong at home at 6-3-1 this year, but their season now hinges on two road games.

“We’re very comfortable playing at Rudd Field,” UMass coach Ed Matz said. “Some of the success we’ve had at Rudd should be transitioned over to some road wins. Now we have two less games to prove that.”

For Matz, the time is now.

“We need to play with urgency, we need to realize that we can play and win games on the road,” he said. “We’re just trying to get ourselves more prepared, not only in the field, but in a large part mentally for the games this weekend.”

UMass salvaged a crucial point last weekend with a draw against Charlotte, which currently separates the two squads. However, Matz is not going to hinge his season on that point.

“That point only means something if we take care of business this weekend,” Matz said. “Hopefully that point will help us Sunday, but if we don’t get points (on Friday) then that point doesn’t really matter.”

Sophomore forward Moa Mattsson will be leading the line for the Minutewomen and comes into the weekend tied for sixth in the conference with nine goals scored. Mattsson, along with freshman Jackie Bruno and sophomore Alyssa D’Arcy, will look to carry the momentum earned in the 4-0 win over George Washington that moved UMass into a playoff position.

The Bonnies will provide a number of scoring threats for the Minutewomen defense to deal with. Seven players have contributed to the team’s goal-scoring efforts, with just one goal scorer having less than two goals.

Shannon Van Riper leads the team in scores with four. However, Brittany Charles has been a main provider for the Bonnies with 10 points amassed from two goals and six assists.

Matz sees St. Bonaventure coming with an extra edge stemming from the defeat it suffered at the hands of the Minutewomen in last season’s tournament.

“Last year we knocked them out so that’s something that is on their mind,” Matz said. “But I think they have a lot to play for.”

St. Bonaventure will need every point it can get if it hopes to keep its championship dreams alive. After taking on the Minutewomen, it will host Rhode Island to conclude the season.

On Sunday, UMass travels south to take on the Dukes (6-9-2, 2-4-1 A-10), who also enter the weekend on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

With seven points, Duquesne still has something to play for but will need a number of results to go their way if they are going to make the post-season.

Before facing the Minutwomen, the Dukes host Rhode Island and will need to come out with three points to put themselves in position to challenge for the playoffs rather than try to play spoiler  against the Minutewomen.

In recent weekends, the Dukes have collected a pair of wins from the Bonnies and Xavier between a 4-0 loss to Dayton and a double overtime defeat against Temple.

Neither St. Bonaventure nor the Dukes boast a stellar defensive record, conceding 33 and 25, respectively. The Minutewomen enter the weekend undefeated in games they score first, and Matz recognizes the potential for that scenario to emerge.

“I certainly hope that (we can score early),” Matz said. “And that is part of the mental aspect that we stressed today in practice. We have a very young team and they need to realize they can win on the road.”

However, when the dust settles, Matz believes his team will be back to practice on Tuesday to prepare for the A-10 championships.

“I think that my team, throughout the year, we’ve proved that we can play with anybody,” Matz said. “From the No. 2 team in the country to anybody. This weekend we need to prove we can win games on the road.

“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and how we’ve come together throughout the season.”

The Minutewomen kick-off at 3 p.m. on Friday against the Bonnies and 1 p.m. against the Dukes on Sunday.

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