UMass field hockey to host Kent State in Wednesday’s play-in game of NCAA tournament

By Philip Sanzo

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

A month ago, an appearance in the NCAA tournament was something that did not seem all that feasible for this year’s Massachusetts field hockey team. Sitting at 6-7 freshly off a 1-0 loss to Saint Francis that brought its losing streak to three games, UMass was put in a position where winning out was its only real option if it wanted a shot at the big dance.

Fast forward four weeks and UMass is now set to host Kent State Wednesday afternoon at Gladchuck Field in the play-in round of the NCAA tournament.

The Minutewomen ended their season on a 5-1 run – including winning the Atlantic 10 tournament – while outscoring opponents 23-to-6 over the span.

In the A-10 tournament UMass rallied from a two-goal deficit against Saint Joseph’s before shutting out Richmond in the finals, 3-0. The Minutewomen’s dominant wins in the conference championship bracket earned them a spot among the best teams in the country to compete for a national title.

Kent State and UMass share very similar records. Both teams finished the season at 11-8 and both won their respective conference championship – Kent State defeated Miami University in the Mid-American Conference championship.

This year will be the third NCAA appearance for the Minutewomen under the tutelage of coach Carla Tagliente.

“We work all spring and all fall to get to this point that only lasts for really two weeks, just enjoy it and make the most of it,” Tagliente said Tuesday.

Kent State brings an electric offense into Wednesday’s matchup, as the Golden Flashes have scored 43 goals on the season and is averaging 2.26 a game. These numbers very closely match UMass who currently has 47 goals on the year for an average of 2.47.

The biggest differential between the two teams can be found on the defensive side of the ball. Kent State has given up 45 total goals this season.

Meanwhile, UMass’ defense has carried the team for the majority of the seasom, having allowed 30 goals all season.

Much like in their game against the Hawks in the A-10 tournament, the Minutewomen will need to limit whatever damage is made and do their best to keep the Golden Flashes away from building any offensive momentum early on.

A win over Kent State will put UMass up against No. 1 seed Syracuse University. The Orange defeated the Minutewomen 4-0 on Sept. 6.

“I think we have the capability to make some noise in the tournament, I just want them to have the courage to do it,” Tagliente said.

UMass keeps same mentality

All season long the focus for the Minutewomen has been taking the season one game at a time and not focusing too much into the future. Tagliente said that preparation for the NCAA tournament will be no different.

While making a deep run is an obvious goal for UMass, Tagliente said it’s important to recognize the other benefits of playing in a tournament against the best teams in the country.

“Really just having them realize that at most there are two weeks left in the season and just enjoy the moment and really shoot for the stars,” Tagliente said.

UMass has experienced what type of talent is in the tournament on multiple occasions this season. The Minutewomen have already faced Boston University, Syracuse, Stanford, Louisville, and Boston College – all teams that are seeded in the NCAA tournament. UMass went 1-4 in these matchups.

Scheduling these nationally-ranked games not only helped the Minutewomen prepare for a possible berth in the tournament, according to Tagliente, but it also helped improve the program.

“We do it because our goal is to not just make the tournament, it’s trying to keep improving as a program and pushing it to the next level,” Tagliente said.

She added that UMass would be unable to accomplish that if it did not compete with the top-tier schools such as the four ranked teams this season.

The Terriers were the only nationally-ranked out-of-conference opponent the Minutewomen had success against this season. The story is much different now though then it was when UMass played most of those schools earlier in the season.

Since then, UMass has seemed to find a consistent groove and an aggressive offensive attack that eluded them for much of the season.

“I think we are hitting our peak right now,” Tagliente said. “We plan on winning.”

Philip Sanzo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.