Even in A-10 semifinal loss, UMass defied adversity all season long

By Joey Saade

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Araz Havan/Daily Collegian

For young collegiate squads, adversity is a tough obstacle to overcome throughout a long, grueling season. However, the Massachusetts women’s soccer team wasn’t fazed by the road blocks thrown at it this season. Instead, it embraced the challenge.

Friday’s crushing 1-0 loss was a perfect example of how it took more than just adversity to take this team down.

Five minutes into overtime of their Atlantic 10 semifinal match against No. 2 seed La Salle, the Minutewomen were called for a controversial foul – which resulted in a penalty kick game-winner by Explorers senior Renee Washington – that would eventually end their season.

“It all happened so fast, it was over in a matter of seconds,” UMass coach Ed Matz said. “We were stunned and angry with the call, but that’s part of the game.

“I think it just took a very controversial call for us to lose.”

The Minutewomen entered Friday’s match already battered and bruised. They fought through their third double-overtime game in their last four matches in Thursday’s first round win against Saint Louis.

Unfortunately for UMass, starting defender Georgia Gibson was lost to injury before the match against La Salle. To compound the issues, UMass played the final 10 minutes of regulation and overtime without another one of its starting back-line defenders, Rebekka Sverrisdottir.

As difficult circumstances continued to mount on top of the Minutewomen, they refused to crumble.Their defense kept the Explorers and their highly ranked offense scoreless through regulation in a game La Salle was favored to take handily.

Although the controversial penalty call led to the end of the Minutewomen’s bid to the A-10 championship game, Matz couldn’t have been more proud of his team’s resiliency.

“As a coach, they played their hearts out,” Matz said. “They left every single thing out on the field and there are no regrets with the way we played. I was proud of the team every minute they were on the field. When a coach can leave a game and know that all of his players gave every ounce of energy they had, you can’t ask for more.”

For a team that came into the season with a multitude of question marks, it’d be hard to find a team willing to give more effort.

UMass went through a tough transition period this year after losing its top offensive player from a season ago in Moa Mattson. The team had to incorporate 14 new young faces into a system that expects strong results year in and year out.

Redshirt freshman goalkeeper Danielle Kriscenski had to step in her first eligible year and take over a starting spot left by two accomplished graduated seniors.

Co-captains Lauren Skesavage and Grace Coombs, along with fellow senior Brittany Moore, were left to lead the inexperienced group. All three took on their enhanced duties and all three delivered.

Skesavage led a back-four defensive unit that kept her team competitive in nearly every game. Coombs provided skillful play on both sides of the field, including her tough physical nature that frustrated opposing players.

Moore entered the season as a defensive player, the position she’s played her entire career, but was forced to switch roles as the team’s go-to offensive player based on UMass’ scoring needs. She lead the Minutewomen with eight goals by season’s end and netted a hat trick against Rhode Island.

“All three of them helped us win games throughout the season,’ Matz said. “Their attitude and commitment to the program helped this team grow. Without the three of them, we certainly wouldn’t have been where we were.”

Perhaps the defining moment of the Minutewomen’s season came in their A-10 opening round match against Saint Louis.

After playing through two scoreless overtimes, the game hinged on penalty kicks.

With the season on the line, Matz decided to put the ball – and the pressure – in the hands of his young guns. Along with Moore, he chose freshmen Alyssa Fratarcangelli, Megan Burke and Julia Weithofer as well as sophomore Jen Coppola to dictate the outcome of their season.

They all delivered.

“It’s the fourth time I’ve had a game go to pk’s, and never have I sent out three freshman and one sophomore,” Matz said. “They were all cool and calm, and buried all of them.”

Maturity was one of the biggest challenges Matz knew his Minuetwomen had to overcome before the season started. Just like the rest of their challenges, they handled it just fine.

“They’re a fun group of kids to coach,” he said. “I didn’t have to pump them up before every game this season, they got themselves up and they played for each other.

“They’re a team that just keeps growing and growing.”

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