Defense remains key this season for UMass

Bella Mendoza and Megan Olszewski have 67 combined saves this season

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Parker Peters/ Daily Collegian

By Sophie Weller, Collegian Staff

Despite its loss on Sunday, the Massachusetts women’s soccer team showed strength and perseverance on defense against Virginia Commonwealth, allowing the top seeded team to get just nine shots on goal throughout over 90 minutes of play.

Ava Jouvenel, Fiona Kane, and Juliana Ryan make up the back line with Bella Mendoza and Megan Olszewski splitting time in goal.

“I think we started out the season wanting to play a certain way,” head coach Jason Dowiak said of the defense. “Adding [Juliana Ryan] into the mix as a freshman has kind of been the circumstance every year. We’ve added somebody relatively new in there. When [Kane] and [Jouvenel] both joined us in 2019 they were both new, so having their experience I think helped [Ryan] get settled in.”

In her short time on the team, Ryan has played resilient in the back, getting minutes in every game this season. In the loss to VCU (9-2-0, 5-0-0 Atlantic 10) on Sunday, Ryan played for the entire 97 minutes, keeping a strong offensive team to just 16 opportunities.

At the start of the 2021 season, Jouvenel was named captain along with fellow teammate Mia Carazza. Jouvenel started her collegiate career at Georgia State before transferring to play at UMass (7-3-3, 3-1-1 A-10). Throughout her three years, she has played countless minutes and displayed leadership to earn her current role.

“[Jouvenel] says it how it is,” Dowiak said. “She is real straight forward with her teammates and they respect her for it. It’s why she was picked as a captain. She understands the game at a super high level and can communicate the needs in a moment of a game whether it’s coming from us as a staff to her or her making decisions on the field. That leadership comes I think through her honesty.”

Mendoza began the season playing the full 90 minutes in goal, but in the third game she was subbed out and Olszewski took over between the pipes. From then on, it was Olszewski who earned the starting role, while Mendoza was sidelined with an injury. Since then, Mendoza has become the second half goalie, with her and Olszewski combining for multiple saves each game.

“I don’t think too many teams around the country have two extremely gifted, strong, capable, and confident goalkeepers,” Dowiak said. “They’ve done a lot to allow us to protect the situations where dangerous moments start to show up in games.”

Saint Louis is an offensive team coming off a 4-0 win over George Washington. The Billikens’ have 14 goals on the season and (5-7-1, 3-2-0 A-10) currently average 13.8 shots per game with 73 out of 180 shots being on goal. The challenge to control Saint Louis’ offensive is in the hands of Jouvenel and the UMass defensive line.

“Them along with our goalkeepers have kept us in games when maybe we let the game get out of control.” Dowiak said. “For us, our success obviously relies on them doing their defensive job, but also them being that release value to help us maintain possession so we can defend by not allowing our opponents to touch the ball as much.”

The Minutewomen will travel and face off against Saint Louis at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Sophie Weller can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SophieeWellerr.