UMass’ fast start pays dividends in its 2-0 victory over George Mason

The Minutewomen’s unbeaten streak reaches eight games

Thom+Kendall+%2F+UMass+Athletics

Thom Kendall / UMass Athletics

By Kevin Schuster, Assistant Sports Editor

On a windy day at Rudd Field, a pair of crosses found their way to the back of the net for the Massachusetts women’s soccer team in its 2-0 win against George Mason. UMass (6-2-2, 2-0 Atlantic 10) was on the back foot early, but quickly turned things around, controlling possession in the midfield and attacking with energy for most of the 90 minutes.

The Minutewomen are typically known to be a second half team but were able to score just over 19 minutes into the first half. Forward Karina Groff sent in a cross from the left corner of the box that sailed past a cluster of players in front of Patriots (3-7-0, 1-1-0 A-10) goalkeeper Sarah Cuttler and into the back of the net.

“I think in the first five minutes we were still trying to figure out how to start games with the same type of energy as we finish them with,” UMass coach Jason Dowiak said. “Once we got into it, I thought we played really well.”

Ashley Lamond doubled UMass’s score only eight minutes into the second half. Driving towards goal, Lamond sent in a cross which found its way up and over Cuttler and into the far corner of the goal.

The Minutewomen had full control of the midfield and plenty of time on the ball to play through balls into space down the line to send crosses into the box, something Dowiak has been hoping to find improvement on throughout the course of the season. UMass’s 14 total shots forced Cuttler into making four saves, with three in the first half.

“The final moments could have been cleaner, a little bit better, but it was exciting to see us actually knock the ball around like that,” Dowiak said. “I think that might have been our best possession in the first half that we’ve seen in the first half of any of our games. Real pleased.”

Making it into the starting lineup, captain Mia Carazza played a busy role in the attack, beating defenders 1-on-1, and playing dangerous crosses to UMass’s leading goal scorer Chandler Pedolzky.

“[Carazza] is ready,” Dowiak said. “[She] is kind of a freak of nature. She could be out for two years and be fit enough to go. She’s just built that way. Mia is something we’ve been lacking a bit in that threat to really get behind that line too … it’s hard to keep one of our captains off the field if she’s ready to go and obviously it played out well for her today.”

Coming off two losses to start the season against No. 12 Penn State and Boston College, the Minutewomen now ride an eight-game unbeaten streak dating back to Aug. 26.

“I don’t know if we had a slow start to the season because of the opponents we opened with,” Dowiak said. “I thought we actually played really well, they’re just very tough opponents. We did hit a little bit of a swell coming out of those games when we were under anticipating our opponents unfortunately.”

The back line has offered ample support for a Minutewomen side that has conceded only four goals in that eight-game span. Led by captain Ava Jouvenel, UMass’ defense held up against George Mason. The defense forced only four, rather comfortable saves out of the goalkeeper pairing of Megan Olszewski and Bella Mendoza who made her way back onto the field in the 70th minute for her first appearance since her knee injury four weeks ago.

“Sam [Mitchell] and Lauren [Aldred] have done a fantastic job at getting us organized even better this year and I think the way that our backs have been playing the last four, five games and the way [Olszewski] and now [Mendoza] who’s back in too have played in net has made us sound and safe which has given the freedom to our attacking players to get a little more aggressive too,” Dowiak said.

UMass next takes on Rhode Island at home on Sunday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

Kevin Schuster can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @KevinESchuster.