UMass women’s soccer prepares for make or break week with two games left on schedule

By Adam Aucoin

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The last time the Massachusetts women’s soccer team failed to make it to the Atlantic 10 tournament, the five seniors on the team were in their freshman year of high school and coach Ed Matz was leading Northeastern to a NCAA Tournament berth.

That was in 2008.

It’s safe to say this group of UMass (6-6-4, 3-3-2 Atlantic 10) players is not used to the spot they are in, as they currently sit in ninth place in the conference. The top eight teams in the conference make the postseason, meaning the final two games of the season take on extra importance for the Minutewomen. The team will need to win at least one, if not both, of the games to keep its season alive.

The first of the two games is Thursday as UMass finishes up the road portion of its schedule with a game against Saint Joseph’s (11-6, 5-3 A-10).

The Hawks come into the game riding a four-game winning streak and sit fifth in the conference.

St. Joseph’s is known for its high-powered offense, entering this contest with a 1.82 goals per game average, tied for second best in the A-10 with Saint Louis.

The leader of the offense is junior midfielder Emily Gingrich, who has nine goals on the season, which is fourth in the conference. They also get strong offensive play out of freshman forward Dakota Mills, who has recorded seven goals.

Matz is wary of the opponent’s offensive abilities coming into the game.

“A lot of how we attack them defensively has to do with where (Gingrich) plays,” he said. “We have to make sure we pressure her whenever she has the ball. If she has the ball in space, she can do a lot of damage.”

Senior defender Madison Smith said she believes UMass needs to do the same things it has done all season on defense in order to stop the Hawks’ attack.

“We don’t need to change our defensive strategy in order to have success,” Smith said. “We have a senior group on the backline that is strong, so if we all bring our A-game I see no reason why we can’t slow them down.”

A big storyline in the game will be the play of the two goalkeepers. The Minutewomen will call upon possibly the best goalie in the conference this season in Cassidy Babin, while Saint Joseph’s will start senior Allison Ebling. Both goalies have been strong all season long. Babin leads the conference with a 0.81 goals against average, while Ebling is third in that category with a 0.92 mark.

Matz is hopeful that his team’s offense will have a strong game despite the tough goalkeeping.

“We don’t worry too much about the opposing goalkeeper when we go into a game,” Matz said. “Our goal is to get the people in the right places at the right time. I think with our varied offense we can have some success.”

UMass will be without one of their top offensive threats in the game, as junior forward Megan Burke will be out for the last two games of the regular season with a knee injury she suffered in the game against Duquesne last Thursday.

Burke is tied for the team lead in goals with three on the season.

With the Minutewomen’s season on the line in the last two games, both Matz and Smith realize the magnitude of the situation they are in.

“We need to win at least one of these last two games to even have a chance,” Matz said. “One point won’t cut it. We realize we have our work cut out for us playing two traditionally good teams, but we welcome the challenge.”

“We have made the tournament every year, so if we want to keep that going we need results,” Smith added. “There are a lot of teams doubting us especially with our play on the road. This is our chance to prove that we are good team.”

Thursday’s game is set for 7 p.m. in Philadelphia, while UMass’ last game will be Sunday at Rudd Field against Dayton (8-9, 6-2 A-10), which will also be the team’s senior day. The finale is set for a 1 p.m. start.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34