Kesin: Barb Weinberg is very deserving of co-Coach of the Year

Weinberg embodies what it means to lead a team in 2021

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Caroline O’Connor / Daily Collegian

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

Head coach Barb Weinberg woke up Thursday morning to an outpouring of support from the University of Massachusetts community after being named Atlantic 10 co-Coach of the Year. Massachusetts women’s soccer coach Jason Dowiak joined in on the support for Weinberg to which Weinberg responded in a tweet, “Let’s have a Friday.”

Weinberg referenced the fact that her Massachusetts field hockey team along with the UMass women’s soccer team faced A-10 semifinals games on Friday afternoon. Dowiak’s squad ended the day with a 2-0 win. While Weinberg and her Minutewomen lost in heartbreaking fashion, she still woke up Saturday morning co-Coach of the Year. And she couldn’t be more deserving.

Weinberg’s orchestration is quiet. She is vocal on the sidelines but not overly public. The reserved nature isn’t lack of excitement but rather an intense focus on the little things that often turn any close game into a win for her team. Over the course of the season, the focus however still isn’t too tunnel visioned. UMass approached most of its tough matchups with a focus on itself rather than the opponent but still managed to take away a team’s main form of success.

The Minutewomen finished the 2021 season with a 13-6 record and Weinberg coached UMass to three victories against ranked opponents, beating No. 10 Boston College, No. 18 Connecticut, and No. 11 Saint Joseph’s.

Normally with a sports team, you hear a question about identify. What is the vibe of the team? What does this specific group of athletes do when they work together? What makes them unique? Weinberg’s team never needed to have their identify questioned. The Minutewomen wore it on their sleeve every game.

Resilient.

UMass knew how to win in overtime. And Friday’s shootout doesn’t take away from that. Weinberg herself expressed numerous times over the course of the season the confidence in her team when it came to extra time. She knew anyone could score when needed and the Minutewomen embodied that versatility. With games on the line, like the 1-0 overtime win over Saint Joseph’s, no stick shook in fear or nerves. Balls rarely bounced off into the sideline because of lack of focus.

Weinberg’s group mastered the art of serenity and vigor when it came time to put games away late in regular time or early in extra minutes. A calm, strategic game plan executed with complete effort and control. That just became the Minutewomen way time and time again over the course of the 2021 season.

With players like Georgie McTear on your team, it’s easy to draw too much focus to a leader. When McTear was in a scoring drought or was hard pressed by teams who did their scouting, Weinberg knew exactly how to distribute evenly and productively. Not only to find success for her team in general but she used the strengths of every single one of her players to generate high levels of offense and defense when teams thought that taking away one player would do the trick.

It wasn’t all glory for UMass this season. Early losses to prestigious teams shook up an early hot start for the Minutewomen. Virginia Commonwealth handed them their first loss of the season on home turf and ultimately sent UMass home for good on Friday afternoon with a 2-1 shootout win.

Despite games that proved to be uncharacteristic like the loss to Richmond, or times where teams crept in at the last minute like Maine, UMass never hung its head. Physically, after every goal scored against them, card issued or loss, the Minutewomen’s chins were up, and body language was nothing but positive. If a timeout was called, they hustled to meet and listen with complete focus to what the coaching staff had to say. Often Weinberg explained how the difference in the win came from adjustments made at a timeout, in between quarters or halftime. UMass’ ability to adjust is credited to the players to some degree. But the discipline and positivity that ran through every Minutewomen is representative of the culture Weinberg created.

That culture was created in practices and shined through on the field with every game displaying the upmost respect and talent of and from her players. The hugs shared after every goal and celebrations on the sidelines further prove that the 2021 UMass field hockey team represents everything you want from a group of athletes and Weinberg is directly responsible for that.

UMass walked off the field on Friday with a feeling no team ever wants to experience. Hannah de Gast was inches away from keeping shootouts alive but VCU’s goalie was hungry for a spot in the A-10 championship. The Rams didn’t outplay the Minutewomen on Friday and certainty did not out coach. Even some of the best overtime teams come out empty handed after penalty corners.

The Minutewomen exit 2021 with a loss. But no lack of success after two overtimes takes away from Weinberg’s accomplishments and out of all of them this season, winning coach of the year is arguably most meritorious. Not for the personal aspect, but instead to prove how UMass found so much success this year under Weinberg’s direction.

Lulu Kesin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @LuluKesin.