May 9, 2014

Loyola Advances, Defense Stifles Minutewomen

by Arielle Aronson | LaxMagazine.com

The Loyola defense proved too much for UMass in the first round of the tournament. (John Strohsacker)

In-Game Blog Replay

 

NEWTON, Mass. - An NCAA regional matchup projected to be a battle of two high-powered offenses ended as a clash between defenses as No. 12 Loyola downed No. 14 UMass, 10-4, in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday afternoon.

The Minutewomen (18-2) entered the game with the best scoring margin and seventh-best scoring offense in the nation, but they could not provide an answer to Loyola's (15-5) patient defenders.

"I was really proud of our team's effort today," said Loyola coach Jen Adams. "One of our big themes coming in was we don't want our season to end, so to see the fight that the girls put forward all over the field coming out of a tight first half and to see them spread that gap and really take control of the game is what you want to see as a coach."

Although the Greyhound offense took a little while to warm up in the dreary May drizzle, the defense stifled the Minutewomen from the start. UMass could not find the back of the net until 9:21 into the game, but by that point Loyola's Sydney Thomas and Hannah Schmitt had already combined to give the Greyhounds a 2-0 lead.

The sides traded goals throughout the half, but Loyola held the slim, 4-3 lead at the end of the first 30 minutes of the game.

In the second half, UMass seemed to control play for the first six minutes, but it could not find a way to beat Loyola goalie Molly Wolf. The Minutewomen were only frustrated further when the Greyhounds broke the defensive stalemate via a Thomas goal to give Loyola a 5-3 lead with 23:19 remaining in the game.

"They're such a dynamic team in terms of having so many different scorers and a lot of different weapons," said UMass coach Angela McMahon. "They have speed and when we just couldn't capitalize, we're just giving them more opportunities to get to cage and they did a great job moving the ball."

The Greyhound offense seemed to wake up after Thomas's goal, tallying two more scores in a span of less than four minutes to give Loyola a commanding, 7-3 lead with 19:36 remaining in the game. Loyola also improved its game in transition, as it stopped committing as many turnovers in transition as it recorded in the first half, and therefore limited UMass's ability to control possession.

"We were going down and we were causing a lot of our own turnovers [in the first half]," Adams said. "We were very sloppy. We just weren't executing. We talked about picking up that side of our game, making sure that if it was a turnover, it was because they really worked to get it and we weren't just handing it over. I think we tightened up our sticks a little. We weren't as sloppy. I think we were more patient and very poised with the ball."

Loyola's only letdown of the second half came with 16:11 remaining in the game. UMass senior Sam Rush tried to spark a comeback when, in a flurry in front of the net, she found the only sliver of open space in the Loyola net and tucked a shot just under the crossbar to tighten the score to 7-4. The goal – Rush's second of the game and 67th of the season – set a new program record for goals in a single season.

But the Loyola defense recovered from the momentary lapse by keeping UMass off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game.

The Greyhounds took advantage of a Minutewomen turnover at the 10-minute mark to extend their lead to 8-4, and then hammered the final nail into the coffin by scoring twice in an 18-second span with just over a minute left in the game to earn the 10-4 win.

But the defense was the most impressive aspect of Loyola's game in the final minutes, playing tough physically while collapsing in front of the net and forcing the Minutewomen into taking poor-angle shots.

"Their defense was more high pressure and a different style than we've seen in our past games," said UMass senior attack Katie Ferris. "It was something we needed to adjust to and we started to a little bit, and then we turned the ball over. We just didn't really get in a good groove today."

The Greyhounds now advance to the regional final, where they will face regional host No. 6 Boston College at 1 p.m. on Sunday.


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