UMass women’s soccer has high expectations for 2013

By Joey Saade

Heading into the 2013 season, there is something different about the Massachusetts women’s soccer team.

It’s not the team’s ultimate goal of winning the Atlantic 10 championship – that remains the same. It’s the way they’ll have to accomplish that goal: with a younger team that will have to come together.

After capping off last season with a 9-10-1 record and first-round elimination by Dayton in the A-10 Tournament, expectations have only risen for this year’s Minutewomen.

UMass coach Ed Matz will have to lead a squad that includes only six upperclassman – three juniors and three seniors – and 12  freshmen.

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

While there may be some bumps and bruises that emerge from the learning curve this Minutewoman team will have to endure, Matz has them up to the challenge. Before the preseason even began, Matz put his squad through a two-day, Navy seal-led leadership program. The program was intended to bring the team together by challenging each player through difficult and uncomfortable situations and activities.
Matz was hoping for new leaders to emerge. And he thinks it worked.

“Our six [upperclassman] became better leaders, and it also helped them see that these freshmen and sophomores are quite capable of being leaders as well,” Matz said. “I call those [leadership challenges] bumps in the road. Down the road, when we’re faced with adversity, we’ll be able to handle them a little better.”

Senior defender Lauren Skesavage is quite familiar with team leadership, as she was elected as co-captain for the second straight year.

Acknowledging that this upcoming season entails a “whole different atmosphere,” Skesavage believes that the program went long ways into preparing the team down the road.

“That’s the big change from previous years that this program really helped us kind of bond and start a great atmosphere for our team,” she said.

Senior midfielder Grace Coombs was named the other co-captain.

Coming out of the camp, Coombs made a point of emphasis about leadership. She doesn’t care who has the “C” on their jersey, it’s all about a team effort.

“It made everyone aware that just because me and Lauren are the only captains, we’re not the only leaders,” she said. “Everyone can come out and lead.”

According to Matz, the learning curve for the incoming freshmen is a very challenging one that will have to be conquered if this team has any aspirations of its season goal.

The young class includes two redshirt players and 10 faces completely new to not only the UMass system, but college athletics as a whole.

While the adjustment period may take some time, Matz and his two captains are impressed by what they’ve seen thus far.

“They’re tremendously talented, athletically fast and I expect them to learn as we go,” Matz said of his rookies.

Coombs believes that even though they are technically freshmen, no one would notice the difference.

“You wouldn’t even think they’re freshmen, you’d think they’re upperclassmen by the way they act and play on the field,” she said.

One side of the ball that will look to continue its dominance of recent past is the defense.

Five different players will be battling for four spots, and Skesavage, who led the team to six defensive shutouts last season, will only demand success.

“I hold high standards for the defense,” she said. “I want to do better than last year. We have a lot of speed and we have to play to our players’ strengths.”

The only question mark associated with the defense heading into this season is the goalkeeping. Redshirt freshman Danielle Kriscenski will take over as the starting keeper, following the footsteps of graduates Emily Cota and Stephanie Gordon.

Entering her second year, Kriscenski will build on the lessons she learned from sitting out last year after suffering an injury in the preseason. Matz has all the confidence that she will succeed.

“She might be a bit nervous, but I’m expecting she’s going to have a really solid year for us,” Matz said.

Despite some uncertainty, Matz admits that he’s never had a team as talented from top-to-bottom in his 20 years of coaching than he has now.

“I’ve never had this, when I could look down the bench and be 100 percent comfortable with putting the 24th or 25th kid in a difficult situation,” he said.

The Minutewomen may have lost their leader in points, shots, goals and assists last season in Moa Mattson, but Matz sees an opportunity for his team to become more of a unit.

“When she (Mattson) wasn’t on the top of her game, we didn’t have an answer, and we really struggled,” Matz said. “This year, we’re going to be very unpredictable because we have so many players capable of contributing.”

Skesavage agrees.

“This year is more about the team, rather than just one player, and we will play with that mindset,” she said.

If the Minutewomen do play with that mindset, their goal of A-10 champions may not seem so far-fetched.

Joey Saade can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Jsaade1225.