UMass women’s soccer faces pair of Ivy League opponents

By Jamie Cushman

After a challenging start to the 2015 season that saw the Massachusetts women’s soccer team go winless through its first five games, the Minutewomen finally broke through for their first victory of the season last Thursday against Bryant.

Now, after a full seven-day gap between games, UMass looks to build its first winning streak of the season when it faces Brown Thursday before bouncing back quickly for a Sunday matchup against Harvard.

The Ivy League tilts mark the end of the team’s non-conference schedule. The Minutewomen (1-3-2) will begin conference play on Oct. 1 when they host La Salle.

UMass coach Ed Matz has already noticed a difference in the team after securing the first win of the season last week.

“You could see it this week (in practice),” Matz said. “The players had more confidence. Their spirits were up. When you score goals it’s a good feeling and I think they felt like the lid was finally off the goal.”

The Minutewomen look to keep that lid off in their first match this week against the Bears (2-2) Thursday at 4 p.m. UMass fell to Brown 2-0 last season.
Matz said he believes the key to the game will be to keep the ball out of the air as much as possible in order to combat Brown’s physicality. He also stressed the importance of the performance of the Minutewomen’s midfielders.

“I’m looking for a lot out of our midfield,” Matz said. “I’m looking for our midfield to control the game, to go forward, to create opportunities.”
Defensively, the Minutewomen will need to keep their eye on Brown junior midfielder Carly Gould.
Gould was second on the team last year in goals (three) and shots (30), and with the graduation of the team’s leading scorer last year in Chole Cross, Gould is the biggest offensive threat. She has already tallied one goal and one assist this year.

Sophomore Mikela Waldman, last year’s assist leader for the Bears, has also recorded a goal and an assist this season and could cause some difficulties for the UMass defense as well.
On the offensive side, the Minutewomen will have to beat Brown’s freshman goalkeeper Christine Etzel. The newcomer has been solid over the first three games of her collegiate career, surrendering three goals in three games.

UMass has an 11-8-1 all-time record against Brown but it has not beaten the Bears since 2011, as the Minutewomen have suffered three straight loses.

UMass battles in-state rival Harvard Sunday

The second match of the week will take place Sunday at 1 p.m. against Harvard. The Crimson (1-4-1) have gone 0-4-1 after winning their opening match, but they have faced some difficult competition.
Harvard’s last three opponents currently rank among the top 25 teams in the country in No. 24 Connecticut, No. 1 Virginia and No. 23 William & Mary.

“Harvard is a very good team,” Matz said. “I think some people are going to be deceived by their record coming into the game.”

Much like the Minutewomen, goal scoring has been an issue for Harvard this season. Over the first six games the Crimson have netted just three goals.

One player to watch for Harvard on offense however is junior Margaret Pruce. After leading the team with 10 goals last season, she has tallied one goal and a team-leading 27 shots over the first five games in 2015.

Junior Lizzie Durack has been average in net so far for Harvard, allowing seven goals over five and a half games. With a goals against average of 1.22, the Minutewomen could take advantage of scoring opportunities.

In the past, UMass would’ve used these nonconference games to give backup players some playing time in order to see what they might be able to do once conference play rolls around. But Matz said this year, the team does not have this luxury.
With the rash of injuries that has hit the team, many young players have already been forced into larger roles with more playing time. According to Matz, this early exposure may help the Minutewomen moving forward.

Jamie Cushman can be reached at [email protected]