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UMass women’s soccer’s strong defense has been crucial to conference play success

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts women’s soccer team defeated Rhode Island by a score of 4-1 at Rudd Field on Thursday, thanks to a flurry of goals and another strong showing by the defensive unit.

Goals from Gabriela Kenyon, Kelly Marra, Jenna Thomas and Natalie Perussault willed UMass to its third straight conference win, extending its unbeaten streak to three. Four goals is a season-high for the attack.

Heading into the matchup, coach Ed Matz stressed the need for the defense to continue performing the way that it had in recent matches. In two preceding contests from the previous weekend, the Minutewomen (6-5-2, 3-1-1 A-10) allowed zero goals to their Atlantic 10 opposition.

According to Matz, the defensive unit successfully started off strong and allowed the offense to really take over and do what it does best, score goals.

“I thought we did a good job, especially to start the game,” Matz said. “Our defense ignites the rest of our offense so when we sit back and allow teams to come to us, it’s hard to get our offense going, I thought we did a good job of being aggressive defensively.”

Leading the charge for UMass has been junior defender Paige Kozlowski. In her third season with the team, Kozlowski has emerged as a key leader among the defensive unit, especially since the start of conference play.

On the field, the Pennsylvania native is extremely vocal and highly influences the play of the group alongside senior goalkeeper, Cassidy Babin.

“I definitely talk a lot on the field,” Kozlowski said. “We all have to talk, but I think as a junior I have more experience and people are relying on me more, so I definitely step up into that role.”

Kozlowski, who generally sees a majority of the game’s action from the field, only played 42 of the 90 minutes on Thursday. According to Matz, although Kozlowski played well in her limited minutes on the field, getting some rest for her is ultimately a good thing moving forward.

“[Kozlowski] did a good job and it was good that we got a little bit of rest for her because we’re gonna need her on Sunday,” says Matz. “[She’s] is a little bit more of an offensive-minded defender and she likes to come forward and create opportunities for us, so it was good to limit her minutes and manage them.”

Another bright spot for the UMass defense came from the play of Thomas.

The redshirt sophomore scored her first goal of the season in the 56th minute. On a corner kick off the foot of fellow defender Sarah Beaulieu, Thomas connected on a header opportunity and put the ball in the back of the net for the Minutewomen’s third of the match.

According to Matz, “[Thomas] had another excellent game. She’s the big anchor at center defense because she’s able to controls everything.”

UMass gave up just one goal to the Rams (3-10-0, 0-5 A-10), something that both Matz and Kozlowski identified as the only blemish to come out of the match.

“I don’t think they should have scored on us,” Kozlowski said. “A shutout was definitely doable.”

“As the game got to be 3-0, I think we let up a little bit and let that goal in. That was our 30 seconds to have a little bit of a let down,” Matz said. “But, again, that just proves you can’t let up against anybody.”

The Minutewomen will be back in action on Sunday when they host league-leading La Salle at Rudd Field.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Liam Flaherty can be reached at lpflaherty@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.

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