UMass women’s soccer defense remains strong point despite disappointing record

By Adam Aucoin

Julia Weithofer fights way to the ball. Photo by Robert Rigo.
Julia Weithofer fights way to the ball. Photo by Robert Rigo.

The Massachusetts women’s soccer team has struggled to score goals and has lost multiple players to injury this season, most notably senior forward Jackie Bruno to Lyme disease, leading to a disappointing 1-3-2 start.

But amidst the negativity remains one major positive, the defense.

The Minutewomen defense has been one of the major reasons why there is still optimism in Amherst for a successful season.

Since its opening day 6-0 loss to Syracuse, UMass has given up a total of three goals in its last five games, allowing one goal apiece in contests against Rutgers, Central Connecticut and Yale.

The Minutewomen currently rank fourth in goals-against in the Atlantic 10 Conference and would surely be higher without its opening game disappointment against the Orange.

Head coach Ed Matz has liked what he has seen out of his defense so far.

“I think all of us viewed the Syracuse game as an anomaly and after that game we refocused ourselves to being strong on defense,” Matz said. “We have played this way because of our preparation in the preseason and it’s great to see it paying off now.”

The defense is one of the most veteran groups in conference led by seniors Rebekka Sverrisdottir, Madison Smith and Georgia Gibson.

Matz understands the advantage of having a veteran group on hand.

“It’s always great to have two or three seniors on your backline at all times,” he said. “They know the system better than anyone on this team and they can help guide our younger defenders to get better.”

With all this veteran leadership, the underclassman could get lost in the fold, but the Minutewomen have two freshmen who look to be major contributors. Julia Taffuri and Paige Kozlowski are looking earn a spot in the defensive rotation.

Taffuri has appeared in all six of UMass games, starting in two of them, while Kozlowski has started in three of her five appearances.

Matz has been impressed with his young players, but realizes they still have room to grow.

“Both of them are learning,” Matz said about the freshmen. “They sometimes make mistakes, but that is to be expected when you aren’t used to this level yet. I think both of them have exceeded our expectations early on and they will be staples of our defense in the years to come.”

Matz also detailed how both of them are different types of defenders.

“Julia is more of a hard-nosed, knock you down type of defender, while Paige plays great defense but also likes to bring the ball out more,” Matz said. “It’s good to have that type of mix on the team.”

Even if the defense isn’t on their best game, the team believes they will be fine as they employ one of the best goalies in the A-10, sophomore Cassidy Babin.

Babin currently has the best goals against average in the A-10 with a 0.55 average. That also ranks her 38th nationally.

“Cassidy continues to make great saves at the back end of our defense,” Matz said. “Her play has kept us in so many games and the whole team gets a fired up when she makes a great saves.”

Despite all the positives, there are still some areas that need to improve defensively, according to Matz, most notably communication.

“There have been so many injuries early on that sometimes that affects our flow on defense,” he said. “There are times when we are caught out of position and we have miscommunication out there. None of these are major problems though and we feel like they are easily correctable.”

The next time UMass hits the field is Thursday against Brown in its first of two games against Ivy League schools this week. Thursday’s game is at Rudd Field starting at 4 p.m.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected]