Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Home-field advantage key for UMass field hockey on Friday

Minutewomen look to reverse struggles at home in 2018

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Home-field advantage key for UMass field hockey on Friday

(Caroline O'Connor/ Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/ Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/ Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/ Daily Collegian)

By Thomas Haines, Assistant Sports Editor

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Although the Massachusetts field hockey team has struggled at home this year, playing at Gladchuk Field on Friday could prove to be a decisive factor against Saint Francis.

UMass (6-8, 4-2 Atlantic 10) plays and practices on Gladchuk Field, which has an AstroTurf playing surface. Saint Francis (8-7, 4-2 A-10) plays on DeGol Field, which doubles as the school’s football field and is also turf.

“This kind of a team, it’s a big difference,” junior midfielder Sophie de Jonge said. “Their turf is just so different, it’s a completely different game. You can’t really have the small passes in the backfield that we’re used to at our own field. So, I think we’ll be good this Friday.”

Last year, playing an away game at Saint Francis, the Minutewomen practiced at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in the week leading up to the game to adjust to playing on turf. UMass ended up losing that game 1-0 to a mediocre Saint Francis team, one of just two A-10 losses suffered by the Minutewomen in the regular season.

While Saint Francis has improved from last year, UMass has reason for optimism. In the five previous meetings between the two teams, the home team has won four times. The only exception came in 2013, when UMass prevailed at Saint Francis in the inaugural matchup between the two teams.

“[Playing at home] is a game-changer,” coach Barb Weinberg said. “It’s a totally different style of hockey, it’s much quicker on the AstroTurf. So, we feel confident going into this game at home against Saint Francis.”

The Minutewomen may need the advantage to keep their offense moving, as the UMass offense has been wildly inconsistent through the first 14 games. The Minutewomen have been shut out five times so far this season, including their last four losses.

Two of those shutouts have come at home, against No. 5 Michigan and Providence. On the year, UMass is just 2-4 at home. Part of the reason for those struggles is the schedule, which has seen two top five programs, No. 1 Connecticut and the fifth-ranked Wolverines, come to Gladchuk Field.

“We’ve had a lot of strong opponents at home this year,” Weinberg said. “Dartmouth, which is much improved this year, gave us a good game at home, and we unfortunately lost to them. But this game against Saint Francis on Friday at home, we need to secure this win to get into the A-10 tournament.”

The game against Saint Francis is one of only two A-10 games remaining for the Minutewomen this season. UMass is currently fourth in the conference standings, but has a sizeable lead on Richmond for the final spot in the A-10 tournament. Saint Francis is right above the Minutewomen, in third place.

As UMass looks to end on an up-and-down year on a high note and get back above .500 before the A-10 tournament, taking care of business at home would set the tone for the rest of the season.

“I think we’re still taking steps,” de Jonge said. “We’re still in the process of getting better and getting better and getting better. A couple weeks ago against St. Joe’s, we weren’t there yet, but we’re getting closer, and I think we’re definitely ready for the tournament.”

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

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