Reigning Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year Melanie Kreusch proved why she’s more than an elite defender for the Massachusetts field hockey team on Friday, as her two goals off penalty strokes proved to be the difference in a close battle against La Salle.
With 33:34 remaining in the first half, some UMass (8-4) pressure in front of goal was rewarded with a penalty stroke. The senior defender converted to give the Minutewomen a 1-0 advantage early in the contest. “She’s definitely our number one person to take the penalty strokes,” Coach Barb Weinberg said of her confidence in Kreusch.
The Explorers (6-4) responded with a goal with 19:12 left in the half, their only goal off of the four shots on net they were able to muster against a stout UMass defense, led by Kreusch.
Fifteen minutes into the second half with the score knotted at one, the Minutewomen were once again awarded a penalty stroke after controlling play in the attacking half for large stretches of the game up to that point. Once again Kreusch was up for the challenge, netting her second goal of the game to break the tie.
“It’s very important, especially a stroke, you always expect it to be a goal because it’s one versus one” said Kreusch, a native of Brussels, Belgium, of her second goal. “It is kind of stressful, but once I’m up there I just go in my own bubble and shoot and hope it goes in.”
Kreusch’s offense included four shots and three on goal to bolster her strong showing. She also led the UMass defense to a shutout in the second half, not allowing La Salle to muster a shot on goal.
“I told her after the game it’s not easy to step up on that line two times in the same game,” said Coach Weinberg, “particularly if the goalkeeper may know where you are going. She did a great job at converting those two.”
“It’s either like high or low. It always varies but I always have one mindset,” Kreusch said of the difficulty of taking multiple penalty strokes in one game. “What I’ve been practicing during practice is just taking one or two a game.”
Kreusch was often dominant defensively as well, as she and the Minutewomen defense successfully shut down the Explorer offense after the go-ahead goal early in the second half, forcing several turnovers. Kreusch’s second goal was all that was needed as UMass was able to shut the gate and limit La Salle to the one early goal. An insurance goal was added with 8:02 remaining and the game finished 3-1, as the Minutewomen picked up another win behind another excellent defensive performance against their A-10 conference foes.
Kreusch continues to build off an excellent junior season in which she took home many accolades including being selected to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team and the NFHCA All-Northeast Region First Team. She continues to prove she is a two-way player capable of making an impact on both ends of the field. Her two goals on Friday brought her total to six on the season, along with three assists to further her reputation as one of the best defenders in the conference.
Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected]