With conference play under way, UMass looks to get on track

By Tyler Fiedler

(Cade Belisle/ Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/ Daily Collegian)

Five straight games against conference opponents is a tough task for any team. The Massachusetts field hockey team is no exception, and with five games in a row against strong Atlantic 10 conference opponents, the Minutewomen are in the midst of one of their toughest and most important stretches of the season.

UMass (3-7, 1-1 Atlantic 10) started the five-game gauntlet with two games on the road, falling 1-0 to Richmond before bouncing back with a 4-1 victory over Virginia Commonwealth University. The Minutewomen hope to keep up their positive momentum when they return home to Garber Field, where they’ll take on Lock Haven, St. Francis, and Saint Joseph’s.

“Last game (against VCU) was a big confidence booster,” coach Carla Tagliente said. “We are excited to play conference games and hope to keep this play up.”

Conference play adds a heightened importance for UMass. A good showing in conference play can leave a team well-positioned for a deep run in the A-10 and NCAA tournaments.

“It is a different level of play and importance,” Tagliente said. “Every game has a different meaning.”

This season, the Atlantic 10 is filled with talented teams, and the Minutewomen will definitely have their hands full. Currently, they sit at sixth in the conference standings and face an uphill battle to improve their position. UMass’s next three opponents have a combined 20-8 record, including a 5-1 mark in the A-10.

Including the upcoming three-game homestand, the Minutewomen have six conference games left and hope to redeem themselves after a slow start to the season. Last year, UMass won the A-10 championship, but it knows it won’t be easy to repeat with the high level of play in the conference.

“It definitely is not going to be easy,” Tagliente said. “We are excited to continue our path to winning the championship in 2014.”
Naturally, teams are expected to take their performance to the next level in more important games, but Tagliente doesn’t see it that way. When asked if her team would heighten their play with the start of conference games, Tagliente took a different view.

“I don’t think (our play) will necessarily heighten,” Tagliente said. “It doesn’t matter what game it is, I think we are just starting to come into form.”

Tagliente went on to say the team tries to be consistent and approach every game with the same intensity, conference play or not.

The Minutewomen have a tough task ahead of them Sunday, when St. Francis visits for a showdown at Garber Field. The Red Flash are a perfect 8-0 on the season, winning their first two conference games by a combined score of 7-0.

“(Their) play this year has been tremendous,” Tagliente said. “It will be a tough game but we look forward to it.”

In order to start a winning streak against A-10 opponents, the Minutewomen will have to build on their 4-1 win over VCU.

“It is important to keep building on our attack,” Tagliente said. “We have to clean up the small details.”

That has been the message from Tagliente all season long, but if UMass expects to repeat as A-10 champions, it will need to start heeding her advice quickly. Teams like St. Francis are talented and hungry for their own chance at glory, and won’t be waiting around for the Minutewomen to catch up.

Tyler Fiedler can be reach by email [email protected] and on Twitter @Tyler_Fiedler