University of Massachusetts women’s soccer coach Ed Matz is cautiously optimistic.
Twenty of Matz’s 27 players are either freshman or sophomores, a daunting figure for a team that hopes to be in the Atlantic 10 postseason picture.
“The learning curve of the team is huge,” Matz said. “We’re tremendously athletic, very fast, we have some skilled players. Sometimes those qualities in a young player are as positive as they can be negative because sometimes they’re trying too hard.”
Early on, the results lacked, as UMass lost three straight games to start the season.
“This team is very talented, very deep, but we’re very young,” he said. “We need to keep practicing and gelling together and creating opportunities for ourselves ... It’s hard for young players to realize the importance of practicing hard every day and the importance of every game and every minute of the game.”
Matz will look to veteran leadership to accelerate the process. Senior co-captains Lauren Skesavage and Grace Coombs assumed the major responsibilities, a difficult task which they’ve handled well according to Matz.
“They’re doing a good job,” he said. “It’s tough when you have so many players. ... Our leaders are focusing on the importance of practice and consistency. It’s a long season and we have to take it one game at a time.”
Skesavage was excited about the young team’s ability.
“I think the freshman have been doing well,” the defender said. “I think they’re still kind of adjusting to everything in the college level. I think they’re confidence is beginning to build which is what we need and which is what’s great. Once they continue to build their confidence I think we’re just gonna get better.”
Despite the abundance of fresh faces for the Minutewomen, two will not be suiting up in the immediate future.
Freshman Jackie Miller tore her ACL in the spring and will not be ready for at least the first half of the season. Stacie Murray, meanwhile, is ineligible after transferring from Tyler Junior College, where she was named a first team All-American.
Both players would’ve potentially played a role in replacing Moa Mattsson, the team’s leading scorer from a season ago who graduated in the spring. Mattson tallied 29 points for the Minutewomen, 21 more than any other player on the team.
Coombs (eight points), midfielder Alyssa D’Arcy (eight points) and forward Jackie Bruno (six points) all impacted the team offensively a season ago and will be asked to do so again.
The sophomore class will have an increased role. While traditionally viewed as underclassmen, many of the sophomores played important minutes a season ago and possess much needed experience. Bruno and midfielder Jen Coppola lead the talented group.
“The sophomores are really stepping up, helping the freshmen because they’ve been there and I think that’s helping us a lot too because (sophomores) are stepping up as leaders, which we haven’t really had before,” Skesavage said. “We haven’t really had a lot of underclassmen step up as leaders so I think that’s good to have this year.”
The postseason is the ultimately goal and Skesavage believes the team is well on its way.
“I really do think we can be one of those higher seeds, we just have to continue to keep our focus and not let anything get in our way,” she said.