UMass looks to finish strong in Senior Day battle against Fordham

Minutewomen ruined Fordham’s Senior Day in last head-to-head

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Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics

By Ryan D'Alleva, Collegian Staff

In what could be its final game of the season, the Massachusetts women’s soccer team looks to beat Fordham on Sunday for a second time this season. Doing so would clinch a berth in a playoff game taking place on Thursday, April 15. But this could happen as soon as Thursday, depending on the results of the Fordham vs. St. Joe’s game as well as the NCAA’s decision regarding the canceled La Salle vs. Rhode Island game.

The Minutewomen (5-4-1, 4-2-1 Atlantic 10) currently sit atop the women’s soccer north standings, closely followed by both La Salle and Fordham. After two straight losses, UMass will look to rebound against the Rams (3-2-1, 3-2-0 A-10), who have won its past three. Earlier this season, the Minutewomen beat the Rams in a double overtime thriller. But this game, head coach Jason Dowiak says, might be a different story.

“There’s a lot of emotion going into this game, for both teams really,” Dowiak said. “For our seniors, it’s the last home game of their careers, and for Fordham, they were just coming out of a COVID pause the first time we played. I imagine there’s a lot on the line too for their game––they play tonight against St. Joe’s and if they win then, the winner of our game [on Sunday] will end up winning our pod.”

Sunday is also the Minutewomen’s Senior Day, adding to the emotional factor of the occasion. Its seven seniors––Dani Sclafani, Mollie Williams, Nissa Pereira, Megan White, Jenny Hipp, and Fatou Barry––will be recognized and celebrated. Fordham will look to ruin UMass’ senior day just as UMass did on its senior day in the pair’s most recent matchup. Though proud of his seniors, Dowiak is focused on making sure that the Minutewomen know that there’s still a lot of work to do.

“For us, we’re trying to not let emotions be the deciding factor, and hopefully let the quality of our play handle that,” Dowiak said. “So trying to stay as composed as we can throughout this week and into the start of the game is really important,” Dowiak said. “Fatou [Barry] will start as our center-forward. It’s great that she’s healthy enough and ready to perform. If she hadn’t gotten hurt earlier in the season, that wouldn’t have even been a question. But all five of our seniors who are healthy and available will also definitely start.”

A St. Joe’s victory over Fordham on Thursday would secure the top spot for the Minutewomen––their quickest route to clinching a playoff berth. This is assuming that the NCAA doesn’t reschedule the La Salle vs. Rhode Island game, which was canceled due to a positive COVID-19 case in a Rhode Island player. The organization hasn’t been able to reschedule many games this season, and with less than a week before the playoffs begin, it may be too late.

“I’ll be honest, we’ll know by the end of the night what their [Fordham vs. St. Joe’s] result is, and that definitely can either add hunger or stress to Sunday’s game. I don’t know that the conference is going to do anything about the canceled game, so tonight could be important for us.”

Despite Thursday’s result, UMass will look to close its season out with a victory. The Minutewomen have the chance to place higher than they ever have since Dowiak became head coach.

“Even if we know we won [women’s soccer north], we need to finish with another win so that we can put ourselves in the best possible seeding position, so we’re going into Sunday with a business mentality,” Dowiak said.

“As a staff, we’ve set goals out for ourselves over the last three years that Sam and I have been here,” Dowiak said. “Each year we’ve finished a little bit better: we finished fifth our first year, third last year, and if we win on Sunday, and depending on how things go around the rest of the conference, we could actually finish as the number two seed. So that’s our goal, and the only way we do that is with a win on Sunday. That’s our message to the girls and the mentality going in.”

The Minutewomen will host Fordham on Sunday in a possible do-or-die contest in Amherst at 3 p.m.

Ryan D’Alleva can be reached at [email protected]