UMass ends non-conference slate with 4-1 loss to Harvard

Lauren Bonavita scores lone goal for the Minutewomen

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By Sophie Weller, Assistant Sports Editor

The rain came down in Cambridge as the Massachusetts women’s soccer team prepared for its biggest feat of the season, facing off against No. 20 Harvard in its final non-conference matchup of 2022.

The Crimson (5-0) kept their undefeated season alive, defeating the Minutewomen (1-4-3) 4-1 on Sunday afternoon.

“I think Harvard is one of the top teams in the country,” head coach Jason Dowiak said. “Our group battled and performed under some difficult circumstances with some players out with injuries and some different things to really show what we’re made of on the inside. I’m really proud of our group today for their effort, their attitudes, and how they battled throughout the game.”

UMass’ only goal of the game came in the 65th minute after Lauren Smida crossed the ball in from the right sideline, but it was headed away by the Crimson’s back line. The ball fell to the foot of Grace Pinkus whose first shot was blocked, and the second knocked off the top crossbar. Finding herself in perfect position once again, Lauren Bonavita tucked away the rebound, recording her fifth goal of the year.

https://twitter.com/UMassWSoccer/status/1569031518068015106

Bonavita led the way for the Minutewomen offensively, finishing with five shots.

“Every game she takes on a new level of this role of leading us from an offensive standpoint, not just in putting the ball in the back of the net, but in how we’re playing and how we’re being more and more dangerous,” Dowiak said. “It was a gritty goal. Like she honestly sacrificed her body on the service to challenge the keeper.”

“She just has like a sixth sense right now,” Dowiak continued.

As was a problem for UMass in Thursday’s loss to Boston University, the Minutewomen were caught flat-footed on more than one occasion. Harvard’s Hannah Bebar stole the ball from Hannah Peric, showcasing speed and skill to tuck the ball away and give the Crimson a two-goal lead.

Immediately after the steal, Harvard was awarded a free quick outside the box and UMass defenders were caught waiting on the ball. Ava Lung took advantage of that, tracking the ball in the air and getting past the back line before taking a shot that soared above the net. She got another opportunity soon after, but it was snagged by Mendoza on the ground.

At the half, the Minutewomen took a total of three shots, with only one on goal, while the Crimson took 13, with eight on goal. The discrepancy in shot totals was indicative of the difference in aggression and possession.

Bella Mendoza got the start in net for the first time this season, but the junior goalkeeper had her hands full in the opening minutes. She quickly made two saves before a handball in the box awarded Harvard with a penalty kick. Lining up to take it, the Crimson’s Angela Caloia sent a low shot to the bottom right corner, while Mendoza guessed wrong, diving in the opposite direction.

Mendoza remained in goal for the entire contest, facing 19 shots and allowing four goals while making six saves.

“We made some tactical adjustments in the way that we were playing and the way that we, just to try to adjust in a way that maybe isn’t as predictable for our opponents,” Dowiak said. “So, coming into today, some of the things that Bella does that’s different than [Megan Olszewski] and [Katie Russell], why we went with her to start.”

Harvard’s Aslaug Gunnlaugsdottir found herself stationed in front of Mendoza with the ball at her feet. Despite being such a short distance, Gunnlaugsdottir fired the shot but was caught leaning too far back, and it soared far above the net and out of bounds.

Gunnlaugsdottir was awarded for her efforts with a goal in the second half. Lung took the shot, but it was deflected off the legs of UMass. Despite the defense efforts, the Minutewomen were unlucky as the ball circled over to Gunnlaugsdottir.

Harvard’s lead only increased after Gabby DelPico netted the fourth goal of the game for the Crimsons on a shot from far beyond the 18-yard box.

Chandler Pedolzky, Karina Groff and Nia Hislop did not see time in Sunday’s game after suffering injuries, but none of the three forwards are expected to be out long term. Captain Serena Ahmed’s timeline remains unclear, and she is not expected to be healthy for the start of conference play.

UMass will begin A-10 play with a matchup against VCU in Virginia at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15.

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