Maddie Ellnor’s emergence helps shore up UMass field hockey on defense

Final piece of defensive puzzle after Jenna Garber’s injury

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(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

By Thomas Haines, Assistant Sports Editor

In the Massachusetts field hockey team’s comeback win over Northeastern University on Friday, much was made of junior Antonet Louw, who scored five goals, and redshirt freshman goalie Megan Davies, who shut out the Huskies for the final 45 minutes. Less conspicuous, however, were the tackles outside the defensive circle that stopped Northeastern’s attack before it got started and got the Minutewomen back on the offensive.

Several of those tackles were authored by redshirt freshman Maddie Ellnor, who has quietly stepped into the starting lineup for the Minutewomen in the stretch run.

“I think just for me personally, I’ve grown and my mentality’s changed,” Ellnor said. “I’ve become more confident in my ability from the first game of the season on to now, and it should continue all the way through [Atlantic 10s].”

After getting her first start against the University of Connecticut following a slew of injuries for the Minutewomen, Ellnor ascended into the starting lineup for good in the 3-0 win over Davidson. In her seven straight starts since, Ellnor has been averaging 52 minutes per game for the Minutewomen.

“I had the opportunity to watch a lot of great players play last year,” Ellnor said. “For me, the biggest thing is being able to change my role on the field when I need to. So, if I need to be a more aggressive distributor, I can do that, but if I ever need to hold back in the center more and be a strong defensive anchor, I can.”

That versatility has proved valuable for UMass, which has had to mix and match on defense at times this season. The loss of Jenna Garber to an ACL tear in the season’s second game hurt the midfield, which has struggled as a result, and nearly two weeks without Sophie de Jonge affected the defensive backfield.

When de Jonge returned, she moved up into the midfield to replace Garber, which left a gap in the defense.

“Maddie’s really stepped up,” coach Barb Weinberg said. “We knew we were a little bit short in the midfield after Jenna Garber tore her ACL and we knew that we had to push Sophie up into the midfield so we were able to play the ball a bit higher and play through her in the midfield. Maddie Ellnor stepped in huge because that was a position that Sophie was previously playing.”

Since that first start against UConn, Weinberg said Ellnor had made great strides on both sides of the ball.

“Maddie’s development on outletting side, with us with the ball and then on the defensive side making those great tackles has improved, and it’s allowed Sophie to push up higher on the field, which is creating more scoring chances for us,” Weinberg said.

Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, Ellnor has two more games to fine-tune her game before the A-10 tournament, where she will likely be starting for UMass.

“We’re looking for a really big, competitive game,” Ellnor said. “This week, we’ve played a lot of scrimmages just looking to get game fitness up to the best that it can be going into the postseason. We’re just looking to get our brand of hockey on point. Quick passes, taking free hits quickly, catching the other team off guard and just playing that faster game where we hit it down the field to our forwards and they put it in for us.”

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