The Jason Dowiak culture

The Minutewomen find copious success under Jason Dowiak

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Kevin Schuster, Assistant Sports Editor

Packed in the back of a trailer, the Massachusetts women’s soccer team sat on bales of hay as a tractor rode along a series of haunted adventures. The team, clenching each other’s arms in an enjoyment and fright as the scare actors lurk and jump out from behind every corner, broke away from the constant structure and demands of being a college athlete.

One of the many challenges for the Minutewomen is balancing their academics with their vigorous on the field and weight room training that they go through for three consecutive months.

A weight-lift follows morning practice, forcing the Minutewomen to hustle to class every day. Homework and exams takes up the afternoon and night, leaving them minimal time to spend with friends.

UMass holds its students to a high standard, but none higher than that of head coach Jason Dowiak. Entering the soccer program, Dowiak ensured that each player must take their academics as seriously as their work on the pitch.

“[Dowiak] was setting expectations for us as freshmen when we arrived for preseason and that first fall of soccer and he told us, ‘I want all of you guys to get a 4.0 this semester’,” co-captain Mia Carazza said.

“I remember looking at him and I was like, ‘You’re crazy!’ But I worked my butt off and got a 4.0 that semester. I wanted to do that and set that standard.”

Falling behind can come easy for someone who spends hours a day running around the field and exerting every ounce of energy out of their system. Rather than jumping into their beds and enjoying the comforts of their dorm room, the Minutewomen run to class to work on their course requirements.

Tucked away in packed auditoriums, etching away at endless pages of assignments and exams, student athletes consistently work against the clock to stay ahead of their course requirements. They also attend study hall and meet with advisors on a weekly basis to discuss their homework and goals for that week.

“[Dowiak] really helped me coming in [freshman year],” Bonavita said. “He made the transition of the unknown really easy. The way he talks to you, gives you feedback, and helps with what you need to work on without decreasing your confidence.

“If you want to do extra work, he’ll always be there on off days. He puts so much time in the team and really cares about every one of us outside of a soccer standpoint.”

Scattered around the surrounding apartment complexes and houses on the outskirts of campus roams thousands of students every weekend. Tailgating a UMass football game or simply relieving the stress of a week’s work, many students resort to leisure activities that provide an escape from the stresses of everyday life.

On those same weekends however, the Minutewomen are packing their luggage and board a plane set for Virginia, Missouri, or one of the numerous locations on their away schedule.

“During the season a lot of our social activities come from within the team,” Carazza said. “Jason is always encouraging us to get to know each other more as people rather than just teammates. It’s really difficult during the season to create time to spend with people outside the team bubble.”

A balancing act, Dowiak limits the number of hours on the pitch to as few as his preparation ahead of a fixture allows him. While still leaving enough time leftover for his players to stay on task in the classroom.

“It’s more about not overloading them and asking them to do too many things,” Dowiak said.

“There’s definitely other things we want to be asking of them from team meetings, more video work, deeper analysis of themselves, but we try to balance it and not over ask a lot. It’s about giving them a little more time so they can manage their own schedules, to build in that leisure time for themselves.”

Shaking hands for the first time with his new players upon his arrival to Amherst in 2017 as newly appointed head coach, Dowiak’s message was made clear from the start.

“I think a lot of times when there’s a coaching change there’s this ideal that I need my own [recruited] players to be successful fast,” Dowiak said.

“I never agreed with that mentality. I always thought if there is a player that’s been recruited by previous staff, they’re at this level and they have to have something to offer. We just wanted an opportunity for players to show their true colors and show what they’re capable of and I think the way that we spent time with them, got to know what made them tick, was what allowed us to build that confidence.”

A head coaching change left doubt and worry amongst the Minutewomen who’s expectations were left solely to their imaginations. The direction the program was headed was all but certain until the season got underway.

Three games into Dowiak’s head coaching career, the Minutewomen fell short against Siena, conceding a goal in the final 14 seconds of regulation. This provided him the first opportunity to determine the mindset he and his players would share for years to come.

“I think the team was waiting for us to lose our minds,” Dowiak said.

“To be honest we brought them all in and were like, ‘That’s a tough one, we should have done better, but this is a great learning experience for us.’ I think that’s when the trust was solidified in that group.”

Since that afternoon in Amherst, Dowiak has led UMass to four consecutive Atlantic 10 conference tournaments.

Kevin Schuster can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @KevinESchuster.