The following article is the unedited version of the one appearing in the UML Connector. Please click on the photographs to see the larger versions. Article and photos are by George DeLuca.
September 11, 2015 – The UMass Lowell River Hawks came to ‘ready to play’ against the Lafayette Leopards at Cushing Field on Friday, but fell short, losing 1-0. Both teams fought hard for the win, but Lafayette was able to hold off an onslaught of furious River Hawk attacks in the second half. It was another heartbreaking loss for the home team, but there were many positives about this game that will hopefully pay dividends as the season continues to unfold.
Lafayette controlled possession for much of the first half, before freshman midfielder, Katie Brannigan of Lancashire, England scored at 11:22 on a rebound off River Hawk freshman goalie Julia Schneider (3 saves). Schneider had one of her best games of the season, looking poised and confident throughout the game. At 6:20 of the first half, Lafayette was awarded a free kick which sailed towards the upper right corner. But Schneider timed her jump perfectly to corral the ball, energizing her teammates who responded by raising the level of their collective game.
“I think we absorbed a lot of pressure in the first half,” said River Hawk Coach Joel Bancroft. “If you start to break down where they had the ball it was more out on the flanks. They were serving balls in the box that we felt were not going to be dangerous and that was the key. The balls were scooped up by the goaltender and we countered out of that. I don’t have a lot of concern about being in our own end in the first half. We were figuring things out, and, we had a couple of effective counter attacks as well.”
As the second half began, the River Hawks wrestled control of the game from the Leopards, outperforming their adversaries with a heightened spirit. Suddenly, UMass Lowell players in all field positions were swarming around Lafayette players on all parts of the field. By working together and gelling as a team, the River Hawks were able to control the play for much of the second half. As a result, the Leopards made mental errors resulting in offside penalties and turnovers.
The River Hawks kept the ball in the Lafayette end, somewhat mirroring the success the Leopards had in the first half by executing a series of coordinated drives with determination, focus, and precision. Although Lafayette was able to make the adjustments needed to get back in the game, both teams played tenaciously the rest of the way. UMass Lowell won a moral victory by showing that they can play effectively with teams sporting winning records (Lafayette is now 4-1).
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for the coaching staff was that the River Hawks recovered after a somewhat tumultuous first half, while sustaining their intensity level for the entire game. The team’s drop in energy level and lack of a sense of urgency has been a troubling factor in previous defeats, as they seemed to have trouble with stamina, running out of steam during key moments in previous games.
When asked for his thoughts about the reason for this surge in productivity, Coach Bancroft said, “I think that it’s the chemistry of the personnel that’s playing. We made some changes late in the Holy Cross game, putting in younger players who hadn’t really been given a shot, and we allowed them to play a little more today. They played with a little more bite, with a little more sense of urgency. We tapped them on the shoulder, and I thought they responded well.”
Sophomore forward Shannon Groffie (3 shots) showed leadership, raising the level of her game as injuries took two key players out of the game. Unfortunately, starting sophomore midfielder Rachel Morrier who has three goals so far this year was one of those players on the injured list. River Hawk ‘Captain’ and senior back Colleen Corlis went down with an injury five minutes into the game. Freshman midfielder Maddie Walsh (3 shots) helped compensate as she caught fire, playing with grit and abandon while sparking her teammates, who responded in kind with a rally. As a result, the River Hawks began to band together keeping the ball in the Lafayette end for much of the second half.
When asked about the impact of the loss of key players, Coach Bancroft responded, “You don’t replace a player like Rachel Morrier, so we had to adjust. Does the complexion change if she’s in the match? I’m quite sure it does. After losing our ‘Captain’ Colleen Corlis early in the game and forward Katelyn Vieira late in the game, we had to adjust again. We overcame a lot of adversity, but not enough to get a result.”
UMass Lowell now goes on the road for four games, facing Wagner, Bryant, Central Connecticut, and Dartmouth before returning to Cushing Field to face Quinnipiac on Monday, September 28, before settling into an eight game homestretch against America East teams in October.
Coach Bancroft said, “Those are the games that if you weigh one versus the other, every team has to do well in their conference because that’s how you gain entrance into the NCAA tournament. We certainly don’t want to lose out of conference matches either, but I think that the schedule we put together being so strong is going to prepare us well for what looks to be a very strong America East schedule and hopefully we can complete.”
Coach Bancroft was pleased with his team’s performance, and he was hopeful that the team’s progress and momentum will carry forward, “I thought we worked really hard, and if we continue to work at that level, things are going to change in the wins and lost column, and I’m looking forward to getting back on the field on Sunday.”