As the No. 1 seed in the America East tournament, the UMBC women’s soccer team enjoys the luxury of getting a first-round bye and waiting until Sunday to meet either No. 3 seed Hartford (10-5-3 overall and 5-3-0 in the conference) or No. 6 seed Vermont (6-8-3, 3-3-2) in a semifinal at Retriever Soccer Park in Catonsville.
The layoff is one that coach Leslie Wray said the team is looking forward to.
“I feel like it’s well-needed. We need to rest,” she said Monday. “We don’t have a very deep bench, and we’re asking a lot of all the players to put in a lot of minutes, hard minutes and stressful minutes. So it’s nice. We have one of our starters [freshman midfielder Megan Kowalski, who is dealing with a bruised lateral collateral ligament] that has been out for the last two games and has been hurt since Stony Brook. We’re hoping that this week is going to allow her to recover and get back into the lineup. I think there’s a few other players that just kind of need a break. So I think this is going to be a well-needed rest for us to gear up for our semifinal game on Sunday.”
The seven-day respite between Sunday’s 2-1 win against New Hampshire and the America East tournament semifinal matches the longest break of the season for UMBC, but Wray said she has no worries about the players becoming rusty.
“It’s not where we’re going to be tackling really hard this week. But our training sessions are going to be at a high level, and we’re going to be able to keep our fitness up and we’re going to be able to keep that competitive fire alive through our training sessions,” she said. “So I’m not really worried about hitting the wall. Our focus is still going to be the same, and I think that’s what this team has done so well throughout the year. We’ve been able to keep our focus when we needed it.”
One of the developments Wray hopes to address is the Retrievers’ habit for falling behind early and mounting comebacks. The team scored two goals in the final 3 minutes, 35 seconds in a 2-1 decision against Hartford last Thursday and two goals in the last 7:17 against New Hampshire.
Asked if UMBC was living life too dangerously, Wray said, “Absolutely. A little bit too dangerous for my liking. I think that’s one of the things we need to work on this week. I know that throughout the season, we’ve been a second-half team. We’ve scored 20 of our 26 goals in the second half. And [two] of our overtime wins have come in the second overtime. I think we need to put together a complete game. We have to continue to attack and deny and tighten our defense. I think in both of our last two games, they scored first and we responded. We don’t want to wait until that point. We need to make sure that we can score when it’s needed and that we can hold onto a shutout.”