UMass women’s soccer recuperating at midway point of season

By Arthur Hayden

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(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts women’s soccer team reached the midway point of its season and received a lengthy reprieve from its schedule.

Ten days separate the ninth and 10th matches of their 18-game schedule, as the Minutewomen haven’t competed since a 2-0 loss to Brown on Sept. 18 and won’t play again until Sept. 29 against Harvard.

Coach Ed Matz and UMass had plenty of time to reflect on the first half that was, and the first half that could have been.

Through nine matches, UMass is 2-5-2, which leaves plenty to be desired but isn’t a reason for panic yet. The Minutewomen and Matz are the first to take responsibility for their lack of victories. Scoring and high-pressure situations were the most glaring problem areas for the young team, as UMass often found itself just a single goal short in most of its losses.

Of the team’s nine matches, seven of them have been decided by one goal (or fewer). Six of those seven have ended in overtime. Generally solid defensive play has put the Minutewomen in positions to win, but without that one big play in crunch time, they have repeatedly come up empty-handed.

Jenny Scro, a redshirt freshman defender, has experienced this year’s struggles firsthand.

“It’s frustrating because they’re such close games,” Scro said. She sat out all of last year with an ACL injury. “We’re very unlucky with shooting.”
Scro has a unique perspective on her team’s performance, not only as a defender – where most of the game plays out in front of her – but also from her season on the sidelines last year.

“It was hard. I just wanted to be on the field,” Scro said. “You definitely get a different perspective game-wise. … We know what we need to work on more and it made me learn how to be positive.”

With this in mind, it makes sense that Matz said communication is Scro’s best asset on the field. As one of the many young players on this year’s squad, Scro is excited about working with such a large group of teammates that will be returning for at least two more years. But she also admits that their age can be a hindrance.

“Everyone’s a leader in their own way,” Scro said. “Everyone should be talking on the field. … But experience-wise, we’re definitely weak. In that perspective, it’s a disadvantage.”

In big-pressure moments – the likes of which this team has a penchant for – experience makes a big difference. But, with just seven juniors and seniors on the entire roster, UMass is severely lacking in upperclassmen leadership.

Rebekka Sverrisdottir, co-captain alongside fellow junior Jackie Bruno, has anchored a defense that has kept their matches close. Bruno has proved quite capable of eluding defenders, getting shots off and earning corner kicks. The Minutewomen rank second in the Atlantic 10 conference in corner kicks per game – but opposing defenses can focus on Bruno and force other UMass players to step up.

Sophomores Megan Burke and Julia Weithofer each have fifteen shots this year, but the offensive potential has stopped there for the Minutewomen. Bruno, Burke and Weithofer have accounted for all six UMass goals this year.

Midfielder Becky Landers, one of only three seniors on the team and the only one who has started a match this season, has, according to Matz, began to take charge in the center of the field despite not being a captain.

“She’s really impressed me and the coaches the last couple of games,” Matz said. “She does a great job winning head balls…at reading the game. … She’s truly an unsung hero on our team.”

Landers’ emergence as a team leader is a great sign for the Minutewomen, but she hasn’t ignited the offense yet. UMass needs to find a few more young playmakers – or see more shots start to connect – in order to improve its unsightly 0.67 goals scored per game mark.
But the win total isn’t indicative of future potential, as UMass hasn’t played a conference game yet. Additionally, its non-conference opponents have been strong, posting a combined 37-34-7 record so far this season.

After the 2014 Atlantic 10 Championships are in the books, these uneventful days in September will be remembered in one of two ways.
Either it will be a 10-day break where the inexperienced Minutewomen recuperated after a gauntlet of overtime matches where they couldn’t find key goals when they needed them, or it will be the moment when something clicked and suddenly the youthful UMass team learned to play to its potential and close out matches.

The Minutewomen start the second half with their final non-conference match against the Crimson Sept. 29 in Cambridge. After that, they will return home to host George Mason in their conference opener Oct. 3.

Arthur Hayden can be reached at [email protected]