UMass falls to VCU in a shootout on Friday

Minutewomen season likely over after A-10 tournament elimination

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Maya Geer/ Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

The grit and intensity that the Massachusetts field hockey team displayed all season long was not lost in the Atlantic 10 tournament on Friday, but ultimately the No. 18 Minutewomen (13-6, 5-2 A-10) fell to Virginia Commonwealth, 2-1, in a shootout.

Hannah de Gast and Georgie McTear each scored for UMass during the shootout, and goalkeeper Marlise van Tonder made multiple clutch saves as well. But the tides turned in the Rams’ (12-5, 5-2 A-10) favor in the fifth round. VCU’s Maite Strum ran down the pitch and van Tonder immediately chipped the ball away from her with ease and looked like she secured a victory for the Minutewomen. But Strum made a miraculous recovery and lifted the ball from just inside the circle all the way into the goal right before time expired.

VCU added another goal directly after courtesy of Svea Strum, putting the pressure back on de Gast, who couldn’t strike twice with the game on the line.

UMass had a few different chances to end the game early without requiring a shootout at all. The Minutewomen excelled in overtime all season long and were given a gift in the first of two extra frames when a VCU player was called for leaving early on a penalty corner. That meant only two Rams were able to defend the corner from inside the circle, but UMass could not convert on the advantage.

In the second overtime period a green card issued to VCU put the Minutewomen at an advantage again, playing 6-on-5 for two minutes. But again, UMass could not convert and wasn’t able to generate a solid scoring chance over that timeframe.

The first 60 minutes of action created a beautiful blend of chaos and calculated play from both sides. Particularly in the first quarter UMass and the Rams raced up-and-down the field trading chances and penalty corners with each other. One of those set pieces allowed the Minutewomen to get on the board early. During the corner everybody on the field stopped moving anticipating a violation call. The referees instead elected to play the advantage, and Emily Keij caught everyone off guard firing a shot into the top of the net.

That quick goal was a change of pace from UMass’ previous matchup against VCU on Oct. 1, where the Minutewomen were unable to generate scoring chances and fell 1-0. Head coach Barb Weinberg wanted UMass to build off that game, and it did, using that experience to guide it through the rest of the season.

“We have to take the process out of this result rather than what that result is,” Weinberg said back in October. “Learn from it and move forward.”

The Minutewomen came into the second matchup revamped, but VCU was plenty aggressive in its own right as it began the game constantly searching for home run passes. A few times they connected but couldn’t take advantage of the attack. Early in the second quarter that changed. The Rams executed a perfect long-range pass that resulted in a penalty corner which they put into the back of the net with authority on a drive that van Tonder didn’t have a chance to stop.

Halftime adjustments turned the first 30 minutes of aggression into a chess match of possessions. As the clock dwindled, both UMass and VCU played much safer, knowing that any one possession could make a difference. That style favored the Rams, who outshot the Minutewomen 3-0 in the second half.

UMass’ graduate students played their hearts out knowing what was at stake for them. McTear battled through an injury and even after falling to the turf in overtime and requiring play to be stopped, she never turned to look back at the bench. The England native instead picked herself up and walked back towards the ball, electing to fight through the pain and play on.

A few minutes later after driving hard towards the VCU net, McTear again fell to the turf, and this time needed a substitution. She spent the remainder of extra time on the bench icing her ankle, but when it came time for a shootout the camera panned down to No. 12 lacing back up her boots. Regardless of any injury, nothing would keep McTear off the field for such a big moment.

McTear’s leadership was shown on the field all game and all season long, but she gave a curtain call to her unmatched skill in the shootout, dribbling around Rams goalkeeper Sasha Elliott and taking a very low angle shot that somehow still found its way into the goal.

Van Tonder’s dominant season continued against VCU as well. After being named A-10 defensive player of the year ahead of the tournament, the graduate student finished with 10 saves and came up big in key moments all day long.

Sitting at No. 18 and without an automatic bid from winning the A-10, the Minutewomen are a longshot to make the NCAA tournament. And though this isn’t the way Weinberg wanted to see this season end, UMass showed it has plenty of fight in it.

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