McCarthy: Even in defeat, UMass proved it can hang with the best over the weekend

Minutewomen played tough against No. 7 Maryland on Friday

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts field hockey team brought an undefeated 4-0 record to a weekend trip down to College Park, playing No. 7 Maryland on Friday followed by a matchup against American University on Sunday morning.

Though the No. 21 Minutewomen (4-2) returned home without a victory, they did bring back plenty of positive and negative takeaways playing their toughest competition of the season. But above all, they brought back some confidence in knowing their winning formula can be applied against just about any team with some success.

On Friday, the Terrapins (3-1) dominated ball possession for nearly the entire game, not allowing UMass to get any quality offense in. But the Minutewomen defense embraced the challenge in front of them and proved their strength against one of the top offenses in the nation.

It started with Josie Rossbach and the UMass defense, fighting through fatigue to keep applying ball pressure to Maryland in all four quarters. The Terrapins attempted a heaping 23 shots over the course of the game, but four were blocked and only 10 found their way to the net thanks to the pressure put on by the Minutewomen inside their defensive circle.

The 10 shots on goal had to get past Marlise van Tonder, who played one of her best games all season on Friday, keeping the contest withing striking distance by making acrobatic stops and doing everything in her power to keep the ball out of the net.

Van Tonder finished the game with eight saves and only allowed one goal throughout the constant pressure she faced.

The Minutewomen’s biggest issue in game one of the weekend was in generating offense. They were unable to string together lengthy possessions necessary to create scoring chances, leaving their offense to rely on set plays from their six penalty corners, none of which converted into goals.

But UMass did not let its offensive struggles linger into Sunday’s contest, finding a goal under three minutes into the first quarter against the Eagles (3-2). And the Minutewomen continued to apply pressure in the offensive circle all game, adding another goal to open the second half and generating high quality chances that were only turned away through active and aggressive goalkeeping by American’s Bryn Underwood.

After back-and-forth action for over 75 minutes, the Minutewomen eventually fell to the Eagles 3-2 in double overtime.

Still, UMass pushed American to its limit, never quit, and the product it displayed on the field was a major improvement over Friday’s game. Weinberg made the necessary adjustments and her team executed them even on a quick turnaround.

Regardless of either outcome, it isn’t particularly surprising to see the way the weekend went, considering the Minutewomen have been grinding out games all season long. Nothing has been perfect — or even particularly pretty for that matter — but they kept finding ways to stay in games and win them thanks to an undeniable competitive fire.

That’s what made this weekend so important for UMass. It already proved that it could win games against opponents that were certainly not to be taken lightly. But even in those more favorable matchups, the Minutewomen didn’t show overwhelming technical ability over any of their opponents.

So, the question remained: could UMass sustain that formula against tougher competition? That question was answered in College Park. The Minutewomen can lean on their intensity, remain competitive and position themselves to win games against some of the top teams in the country. They didn’t come away with one this weekend, but there was never a moment where they were counted out.

The key for UMass now will be building higher quality opportunities. If the Minutewomen can match their technical skills and ball possession to their competitive fire they will be a tough team to stop when conference play begins.

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.