UMass women’s soccer relying on defense during win streak

UMass goalkeeper Peyton Ryan named A-10 defensive player of the week


(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

By Evan Marinofsky, Collegian Staff

There’s a common saying in sports that defense wins championships. Often, championship teams will have a great defense that it can rely on when their offense doesn’t have it going.

Just nine games in to the season, the Massachusetts women’s soccer team has been able to count on its defense, which has been stellar up to this point.

“We started off when we first got here working on our defensive organizations as a team,” UMass coach Jason Dowiak said. “We’ve got two returning starters in Dani Sclafani and Jenna Thomas, who are playing major minutes. They just know how to play well together. Hrefna Petursdottir has played a ton of minutes. There’s that relationship that they all have. And then Nissa Pereira and Mollie Williams have just really started to fit in with the demeanor of how we’re playing as a group defensively.

“But they’re all just on the same page; they talk a lot on the field, they organize themselves. I wish I could take credit for everything that they’re doing but they are just really intelligent players.”

Saying they’re all on the same page may be an understatement. In the past six games, UMass has only allowed one goal. Through nine total games, they’ve only allowed four goals, with two of them coming in an early season loss to Siena.

While the Minutewomen (7-2, 2-0 Atlantic 10) have been good defensively, a lot of that success stems from goalkeeper Peyton Ryan.

“They have a great goalkeeper behind them in Peyton,” Dowiak said. “She just allows them to feel comfortable to make decisions and knowing that she’ll save the day if it comes down to it.”

Saving the day has been Ryan’s go-to move this year. She currently ranks second in the A-10 in save-percentage (.871), goals-against average (0.49) and total goals against (4). She has won A-10 Defensive Player of the Week two weeks in a row.

When Ryan was asked about what has made her so effective this year, she was quick to pass the credit around.

“Everyone in front of me is doing their job,” Ryan said. “If I have to make a save, I try to give it 100 percent and so far, it’s been working.”

Regarding the technicalities of the defense, the Minutewomen are playing a 3-5-2, which is much different than the system that was in place last season.

“We’re doing a whole new system of play instead of last year where we played with four in the back,” Ryan said. “Now we play with three. You might think there’s one less player back there so it could be a little dangerous but we play a 3-5-2: the two wide players and the five in the middle with the weak side coming down to help and defend. Everyone is just doing their job and giving 100 percent.”

Ryan has a good angle to see what’s exactly working on defense.

“We try to stay compact and move as a unit,” Ryan said. “When one player steps up on offense, we try to cover for each other as much as possible and get the rotations down and it’s been working really well.”

When Dowiak became the head coach after last season, he had a different idea about how the defense would look.

“We just looked at the personnel,” Dowiak said. “I came in with the thought of playing a different formation and system. But once we got into spring games and looking at our personnel, we thought it would serve us best to do this. I feel like we’re really well protected by those back three. Then they way that our outside mids and wingbacks defend by connecting into the middle has made it difficult for team to combine or play through us. Then, they’re having to play around us and we’re quite quick to recover when that happens.”

The Minutewomen hope to extend their win streak to seven games when they take on St. Bonaventure on Thursday at Rudd Field.

Evan Marinofsky can be reached at [email protected]