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UMass field hockey heads into crucial A-10 matchup

(Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts field hockey team will square off against Atlantic 10 leader and  No. 19 ranked Saint Joseph’s this Friday in Amherst, with the first seed in the A-10 playoffs at stake.

UMass (11-5, 5-1 Atlantic-10) is coming off a close 2-1 loss on the road against No. 9 Northwestern in double overtime. Saint Joseph’s (13-3, 5-1 A-10) enters the match with the Minutewomen riding a four-game winning streak, most recently beating eighth-ranked Delaware last Sunday 2-1.

“St. Joe’s, they’re a great opponent,” senior forward Sarah Hawkshaw said. “A great team to play against, so it’s going to be a good day for both sides.”

“They’ve got a really talented goalkeeper this year, and they play really great individual defense,” coach Barb Weinberg added. “It’s going to be a tough opponent for us, but one that’s evenly matched.”

The two teams are tied atop the A-10 conference, although Saint Joseph’s holds the tiebreaker. This game will almost certainly decide the top seed heading into the A-10 tournament, heightening already high-tension affair.

“We’re not going to prepare any differently,” Weinberg said. “Any time you have that added pressure in the back of your mind, it adds a different element, but the process as far as our preparation is going to be exactly the same as it has been.”

UMass returns home after a 2-1 road trip that saw the Minutewomen struggle to score goals and build up attacks.

“When we do possess the ball and work the ball to the middle, we tend to get a lot more people going forward,” Hawkshaw said. “What tended to happen with the game over the weekend was we were doing so much defense, any time we did get to go forward, it was counterattack and 1 versus 3. So, we need to move the ball to the middle so we can get more players invested in our attack.”

On the defensive end, UMass has gone four games without allowing more than two goals. In last Friday’s victory over Saint Louis, the Minutewomen allowed only two shots on goal. Against Northwestern, the defense allowed 12 times as many shots (24), something Weinberg attributed to midfield turnovers.

“A lot of our trouble has been off of our outletting,” Weinberg said. “We’re turning the ball over when we’re working the ball forward, and that’s been creating scoring opportunities for the other team. So, if we can keep possession better this weekend when we’re outletting the ball, it’s going to limit the opposing team’s chances.”

For the second straight week, goalkeeper Emily Hazard produced what Weinberg described as her best performance of the season.

“She had a great weekend,” Weinberg said. “Her decision-making was great, she came up huge in many instances against Northwestern and kept us in the game. We’re just going to ask her to keep doing what she’s doing and keep being a leader back there.”

Saint Joseph’s will be the fifth top-25 team that UMass has played this season. So far, the Minutewomen are 1-3 against ranked teams, but Weinberg said the record didn’t reflect their performance in those games, particularly against Northwestern.

“The positive thing we’re taking away is that we can compete with some of the best teams in the country,” Weinberg said. “In continuation of what we’ve been working on the past couple of weeks, we need to put more points on the board. So to beat the top teams in the country, we need to score more goals.”

The Saint Joseph’s game begins a three-game homestand to end the regular season for the Minutewomen, with five days off before the A-10 tournament starts on Nov. 3.

Hawkshaw said that UMass is peaking at the right time.

“As a team, our play has been getting more consistent throughout the season, so we’re looking to keep that going upward,” Hawkshaw said. “We’re going to be working on getting the ball and generating more players into our attack. I think that’ll be our main focus, since our defense has proved itself, especially from last weekend.”

Friday’s game will begin at 3 p.m. at Gladchuk Field, followed by a 1 p.m. game on Sunday against Yale.

 

Thomas Haines can be reached at thaines@umass.edu.

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