UMass opens Atlantic 10 Field Hockey Tournament with host Richmond

  • UMass goalie Marlise van Tonder dives for a save during the Minutewomen’s 1-0 shootout win over VCU on Nov. 1 in Amherst. Thom Kendall / UMass Athletics

  • Georgie McTear, right, of UMass, beats Carli Pelletier, of Albany, to the ball on Sept. 14. J. Anthony Roberts

Staff Writer
Published: 11/7/2019 7:46:26 PM

AMHERST — UMass boarded a flight Wednesday bound for the Atlantic 10 Field Hockey Tournament in Richmond, Virginia.

Playing against the host school in the conference semifinals would ordinarily put the Minutewomen at a disadvantage despite being the higher seed. Yet this season, UMass has arguably felt more at home away from Amherst than it has playing at the Gladchuk Field Hockey Complex. Seven of the team’s 10 wins this season have come away from home while the Minutewomen are just 3-5 on their home field – including a 2-1 loss to Richmond earlier this season.

“We joke about it a little bit, but this team just thrives on routine and consistency,” coach Barb Weinberg said ahead of Friday’s game. “There’s something to be said about being on the road, they’re away from the classroom so they’re able to have some downtime at the hotel, do their studies when they need to and wake up no matter what day it is and just focus on the game and not have other distractions. For whatever reason, this team thrives on that consistent environment.”

The third-seeded Spiders were the last A-10 team to beat the second-seeded Minutewomen as UMass swept through its final five conference games conceding just two goals. But that last win proved to be vital as the Minutewomen entered their Nov. 1 showdown with VCU knowing they had to win to qualify for the conference tournament for a 13th straight season.

The game entered a sudden-death shootout that lasted 10 rounds before Sophie deJonge scored the decisive goal to lift UMass to the second seed out of a three-way tie with Richmond and Lock Haven. But it was the play of goalkeeper Marlise van Tonder, a transfer from Pacific, that sealed the win for the Minutewomen. The South African national team member anchors a defensive unit that has been strong for most of the season, but was at its best in a must-win game against the Rams.

Weinberg said the experience van Tonder has both playing with Pacific the past two years and with South Africa has helped sharpen her mindset. The coach said that was evident against the Rams when she stoned seven straight shooters to help give UMass more chances at securing its spot in the conference tournament.

“Outside of her quickness and athleticism, she’s a competitor and we saw that in our game against VCU when we went to sudden-death shootout,” Weinberg said. “Her ability to make the save over and over in a situation where if she concedes one goal, the game’s going to be over and it was our biggest game of the season. Her mentality as a competitor and just wanting to win (is big for us).”

The defense has been the strength of UMass, led by the play of van Tonder in the cage. Since she made her UMass debut after the opening weekend of the season, the Minutewomen have conceded more than two goals just three times – all to top-15 teams in the current national rankings – and pitched five shutouts. The team allowed a conference-best eight goals, but only scored 14 times in those eight A-10 contests.

No. 13 Saint Joseph’s is the heavy favorite to win the conference title having outscored opponents 40-9 in Atlantic 10 play. For UMass to capture its first conference crown since 2016, Weinberg said the Minutewomen need to “upgrade in our attacking third” by converting on penalty corners and making each attack on goal count for something. She said if the offense can capitalize on their chances and the defense continues its strong play from recent weeks, UMass has a chance to come home with a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

“We feel really good about what we’ve been able to do in our defensive end all season,” Weinberg said. “What has continued to build all season is what we’ve done on our attacking end being able to really build the offense. ... Really just capitalizing on every opportunity that we have. When we get in there, not just having shots wide on goal, but really being able to produce a quality shot on goal and then off the rebound or deflections, be able to finish.”

A previous version of this article misspelled the name of UMass goalkeeper Marlise van Tonder.

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