UMass women’s soccer focuses on its mental preparation ahead of A-10 play

The Minutewomen are emphasizing fine details to maintain quality results

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Reese Maple/UMass Athletics

By Kevin Schuster, Assistant Sports Editor

All 31 players were huddled around head coach Jason Dowiak Friday morning where practice concluded with a ten-minute disquisition explaining the magnitude of what the second half of the Massachusetts women’s soccer team’s 2021 regular season holds.

Entering Atlantic 10 conference play, UMass (4-2-2) must make its presence known early to set itself apart from the rest of the pack and ensure it gets quality results that put the Minutewomen in a comfortable position in the postseason tournament.

“I think the hard part is that we’re halfway through our season and we have high expectations on our players in the way they think, the way they prepare, the way they act, and how they perform,” Dowiak said. “When we get into conference play, the little details need to matter to us. Conference play is everything for us. If we win the first game, it sets the tone for the next one.”

Last year’s unconventional spring season did not truly exemplify how a typical season works and how important the conference schedule is. UMass will rely on its three seniors, Ava Jouvenel, Mia Carazza, and Lauren Bonavita, to be leaders for the underclassmen who haven’t been in this position before.

“Carazza, Jouvenel, Bonavita, and our juniors as well have been there now a few times and what I think is great about our seniors especially is that they have great relationships with everybody on the team,” Dowiak said. “It’s not something I need to ask them to do, they do it because it matters to them. Things will come up that they’ll remember from their freshman year and that conversation will be a lesson learned for the young players when they talk about it. It’s an awesome connection the group has right now.”

Without having played in a nail-biting conference game that determines what seed the Minutewomen get in the postseason, and feeling that pressure, underclassmen might have difficulty adjusting to those mental and physical challenges without the help and experience of the seniors who know how to handle those demands.

“I think that the energy [the seniors] bring both vocally and physically in the game will really be on an elevated level compared to what it’s been already even though we’ve been really bringing it,” Carazza said. “I think that there’s been nothing that has shown [the freshman] how conference play is going to be different than when they’re actually being immersed in conference play, so I think Sunday is going to be awakening for not only them but also the upperclassmen that have been out of it for the last couple years too because it hasn’t been normal. I think it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be crazy.”

UMass came into its 8 a.m. practice a little more sluggish than usual, not keeping up with the same energy that secured it a 1-0 win this past Wednesday over Yale.

If anything, I think we were a little bit less on top of it today than we have been,” Carazza said. “We have a big trip coming up and I think this past week has been long and we’re going into the weekend with a lot of stuff on our mind. There’s a lot of pressure on conference play so Jason was getting on us today.”

That same pressure the Minutewomen were feeling gave an opportunity for Dowiak to push his team even further. By working through the difficult times in practice, UMass will have an easier time settling in and thriving off it when the time comes.

“We tightened the screws a little bit today on them to hold them more accountable,” Dowiak said. “I think that it needed to happen today, so it doesn’t happen later in the season when maybe they aren’t ready to be yelled at.”

As practice carried on, the Minutewomen started to get back in the groove, becoming more optimistic about the rest of the season and performing at a higher quality than how they started the morning.

“Individually we were also trying to get on one another today to create that energy shift because it wasn’t as positive as it should be and I think towards the end of practice we really saw that improvement,” Carazza said. “I’d rather end with more positive energy than start with it and lose it, so I think we’re going to be in a good place Sunday,”

UMass will open its A-10 conference play Sunday at 1 p.m. at Duquesne.

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