McCarthy: UMass field hockey’s biggest strength is its grit

Minutewomen go through ups and downs but never give up

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Maya Geer / Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

Sunday’s contest between the Massachusetts field hockey team and Connecticut was lopsided. The No. 18 Huskies held a major shot advantage, and their high-press defense left No. 20 UMass struggling to even get the ball out of its half of the field.

Despite faltering early and failing to generate consistent offense all game long, the Minutewomen did not give up. They held firm on the defensive end to keep themselves in the game, and their unrelenting compete level was never lost. Those two factors led UMass to a game-tying score with under two minutes remaining in regulation and an eventual double overtime goal to steal a win over UConn.

Head coach Barb Weinberg expressed after Friday’s contest against La Salle that she was most pleased with the Minutewomen not taking their foot off the gas and playing all four quarters despite owning a large lead over the Explorers. On Sunday, UMass again never took its foot off the gas, only this time that unrelenting energy was necessary to come back in the game.

This was one of the Minutewomen’s grittiest wins of the season, but it isn’t anything new for them. UMass has not lost a game by more than one goal at any point this year. Earlier in the year it played then-No. 7 Maryland and lost 1-0, but never let the game get out of hand despite constant pressure against it.

The Minutewomen’s ability to stay within reach during games is a valuable asset and towards the midpoint of the season started to pay off in a big way. The Huskies are the latest of three ranked wins for UMass, all in very similar fashion. The Minutewomen came from behind against Boston College, scoring two second half goals before winning in a shootout. Against Saint Joseph’s, UMass played tight defensively and rode into overtime tied 0-0 before Steph Gottwals electrified the home crowd with her game-winner.

These wins are built off resiliency. The Minutewomen are no doubt a talented group, but the characteristic that sets them apart from other teams is the grit up and down the lineup. It’s shone through. The standard for grit is set by veterans like Georgie McTear, when she is seen competing at a high level at every point in the game, no matter the minute or the score. It trickles down to freshmen and sophomores like Claire Danahy, who runs through defensive players, slipping and falling to the turf, doing whatever it takes to win a battle for the ball. UMass has built a standard for itself that it doesn’t always need to be the most skilled team on the pitch, but they must be the hardest working. And this season, they have been.

The value to that never-ending fight is amplified at this time in the year. Sports are about momentum, and the Minutewomen are gaining it at the right time. With A-10 tournament play starting soon and UMass already guaranteed a spot in the top-4, winning postseason contests requires a certain level of grit that the Minutewomen aren’t lacking. Every A-10 game is winnable when the compete level is high. UMass has already proven that all year long, and if it can continue that in postseason play, there is no limit to how deep of a run the Minutewomen could make.

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.