Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Defense holds URI to one score, helps UMass women’s soccer capture 2-1 OT victory

Sclafani, Kane and Jouvenel hold down backline
Nina Walat

In what ended up being a thrilling overtime victory for the Massachusetts women’s soccer team, it was the defense that quietly—and consistently—held its own for the majority of the game.

Despite a strange twist of fate in which Rhode Island (3-7-3 overall, 0-4-1 Atlantic 10) evened out the score at 1-1 with 33 seconds remaining in regulation, the UMass (6-4-2 overall, 3-2-0 A-10) backfield was able to keep the Rams to just one score through 93 minutes.

Barring goalkeeper Peyton Ryan, only two UMass players would clock in for the entire 93 minutes of the game, defenders Dani Sclafani and Fiona Kane.

“Dani’s been, as I’ve said before, just an incredible example of what we expect players to do,” coach Jason Dowiak said.

“And Fiona, as a freshman—it’s insane how good and confident she’s playing,” Dowiak said. “Doesn’t matter who she’s matched up with—freshman, senior, all-American, all-conference—doesn’t matter. She’s up for the challenge and it’s really cool to see.”

Going into Sunday’s match against URI, the defensive unit planned on structuring their game around the Minutewomen’s fundamental core values, per usual.

“With our team, we try to stick to our basic principles: just keep possession, make sure our defense stays compact, apply pressure on the ball and not give up chances,” Sclafani said. “But, I’m really proud because we stayed gritty.”

Sclafani has played in at least 90 minutes of every game this season, not to mention all the overtime minutes she’s accumulated as well. That workload places the junior defender at the top of the ‘minutes played’ list amongst her teammates, with a whopping 1,124 so far this year. Kane isn’t too far behind with 1,098 minutes, good enough for third-most on the team.

Along with Sclafani and Kane, sophomore Ava Jouvenel is usually listed as a regular starter on defense for the Minutewomen. Those three players together make up the core of UMass’ backfield, serving as a hard-nosed tackling unit, swatting away balls that get too close to the interior.

“I couldn’t do it without Ava and Fiona,” Sclafani said. “The three of us have just stayed together throughout the entire season. I know that if I make a mistake, they’ll always have my back. Being able to play with such an incredible backline makes my job so much easier.”

Between all three defenders, the group has amassed over 3,000 minutes of playing time, accounting for roughly 25 percent of team minutes-played so far this season.

“It’s funny because as a staff we were talking about it the other day,” Dowiak said. “Fiona’s a freshman, Ava’s a sophomore and Dani’s a junior. And the three of them have played the majority of [defensive] minutes together. They eat together, we always see them walking around together; they’ve really come together as a group and I think that’s why they play so well together.”

And, while the game of soccer can seem technically grueling at times, the UMass backline tries its best to combat this challenge by understanding one other on a more complex level, frequently citing the importance of team chemistry.

“It’s one thing to be great friends through the game of soccer,” Sclafani said. “But, [that relationship] is something outside the team that [outsiders] don’t always get to see. We’re constantly laughing, we’re always there for each other and we share really great memories that make our bonding during the game even stronger.”

The defensive trio for the Minutewomen will look to carry over its success in a contest against Dayton next Sunday. The game is set to start at 1 p.m.

 Ryan Beaton can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @ry_beaton

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *