Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Possession issues plague UMass field hockey

Minutewomen looking for consistency against Davidson

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Possession issues plague UMass field hockey

Caroline O'Connor/Collegian

Caroline O'Connor/Collegian

Caroline O'Connor/Collegian

Caroline O'Connor/Collegian

By Thomas Haines, Assistant Sports Editor

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Coming off a 5-0 loss to No. 16 Saint Joseph’s in which it allowed 28 shots on goal while mustering just three of its own, the Massachusetts field hockey team had some work to do.

The root of both struggles for UMass (4-6, 2-1 Atlantic 10) lay in possession issues: Struggles with outletting (moving the ball forward from the backfield) short-circuited the attack, while leading to transition opportunities for Saint Joseph’s.

“Once we figured out what their outlet was doing, we were pressing great,” senior midfielder Maggie Harrison said. “But [the problem] was definitely our outletting – getting the ball from stick to stick. We just didn’t have simple passes around the ball, we were trying to force it through a lot of the time.”

Those possession issues have led to wild inconsistency for the Minutewomen. In the last two weeks, UMass has beaten Lock Haven 4-3 and La Salle 4-1, but also suffered shutout losses to No. 18 Harvard and Saint Joseph’s.

“We’ve been doing a lot of running with the ball, and it hasn’t been working for us,” defender Clodagh Moloney said. “We’ve been depending a lot on certain individuals, and we need to gel together as a team more. Get those passes going, string six passes together.”

When they do string passes together successfully, the Minutewomen have seen lapses in trapping the ball (receiving passes). A missed trap against St. Joe’s allowed the Hawks to score right before the half and go up 3-0 over the Minutewomen.

“We’ve been working on [trapping] since we were six years old,” Moloney said. “I think that’s one of the first things you learn. But when it comes to high-level hockey, different paces of the ball and feels and how they bounce – it’s just a matter of keeping your eye on the ball and getting those basics right. Everyone here is well able to trap the ball, it’s just kind of keeping your eye on it and not forgetting the basics.”

While the possession issues impact the whole team, much of the onus to correct them falls on the midfielders, whose main responsibility is to gain and maintain possession. Although injuries and absences caused a lot of shuffling in the early games, the lineup has settled down. Since the game against Lock Haven, the starting midfield has consisted of Harrison, junior Sophie de Jonge and sophomore Bailey McNamara.

“We have a small roster, and we’re not used to having a roster that small,” Harrison said. “So, there were games where we were changing our lineup around a lot. We’ve changed how we set up, who’s in what position. Young players have stepped up big in really big games, which is great to see. Everyone’s getting more comfortable as the season goes on.”

Now two games below .500 and more than halfway through the season, this weekend’s conference showdown with Davidson looms large. A win would put UMass at 3-1 in the A-10 and in position to determine its own fate; a loss would drop the Minutewomen to 2-2, looking up at the conference heavyweights.

Although the Minutewomen should be favored against the Wildcats, they are running out of time to put everything together.

“I think we’re at a turning point, because we have to be at a turning point,” Harrison said. “We’re 2-1 in the A-10, but 5-0 (against Saint Joseph’s) is a big gap to close. That being said, last year during the season we played St. Joe’s here and lost 5-2, and then took them to double-OT in the A-10 championship game. So, I think we know exactly what we need to work on, now it’s just putting those pieces together in practice and getting better every day.”

Thomas Haines can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @thainessports.

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