UMass not focused on avenging last year's disappointment

  • UMass' Kenadee Rausch pitches against LaSalle during an April 7 game in Amherst. AP File

  • Massachusetts' Quinn Breidenbach pitches against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Jackie Kelley runs the bases against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Melissa Garcia smiles against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Hannah Bunker leads off base against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Kaitlyn Stavinoha on the bases against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Kendra Allen on the bases against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Hannah Bunker throws out a runner against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Riley Gregoire on the bases against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • LaSalle's Morgan Orlowski pitches against Massachusetts during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Kaitlyn Stavinoha on the bases against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

Staff Writer
Published: 5/8/2019 9:03:37 PM

AMHERST — Be where your feet are.

That’s the motto within the UMass softball program designed to help keep the team focused on the present and staying in the moment. Ever since the Minutewomen lost to Fordham in last year’s Atlantic 10 Tournament final, their sights have been on this weekend and winning the conference tournament on their home field. But before UMass can win a title on Saturday, the second-seeded Minutewomen first must play Thursday at 1:30 p.m. against No. 3 seed George Washington in the second round of the double-elimination conference tournament.

“We sometimes have a tendency to look ahead to games, and it’s going to be really important for us to look at Thursday and that’s it,” coach Kristi Stefanoni said. “It doesn’t matter who we play or how many we play, we just need to take it one day and one game at a time and we’ll move forward from there.”

It would be easy to characterize this week as the last stop on UMass’ tour for redemption or revenge, but that isn’t the mindset the Minutewomen are internally preaching. Although the losses last year are in the back of the minds of every player and coach from the 2018 team, it is a whole new season and that has been what Stefanoni has made clear throughout the season. This year’s success might soothe last year’s disappointment, but it certainly won’t erase it.

Instead, the sixth-year coach said her team has done a good job at keeping its mind on this season’s goals and not letting last year muddle that concentration. However, she admitted thoughts of last season will be there this week, but it just can’t be the team’s focus and motivation for the tournament.

“We’re very much – and have been all year – a forward-focused team,” Stefanoni said. “I’m sure it’s something they think about, but it’s not something we’ve focused on. We’ve focused on ‘We’re Team 45 and what we’ve done so far will help us reach our goal at the end of the season.’ I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t in the back of their minds, but it isn’t something we’ve made our center focus heading into the tournament.”

The self-aware Minutewomen understand they have had issues at times focusing on the task at hand and letting minds wander to future challenges. That dip in concentration can explain most of the five losses UMass (25-20) has accrued in conference play this season. It’s partially a reason why the Minutewomen haven’t strung together more than five wins this season.

Yet, in the closest example to a tournament-like environment it has played in this season, UMass won two of three at home against Fordham – the A-10’s regular-season champion – just two weeks ago. Senior Kaycee Carbone said replicating that effort for three days this week is what the players have been talking about as they prepare for the tournament.

“It’s hard for sure (to not look ahead), but we talked to the team about it (Monday) night,” Carbone said. “We just need to take that passion that we had for the Fordham series and use that for everyone. It needs to be the same for whoever we’re playing, it needs to be us against everyone else no matter what their jersey says.”

If both teams win Thursday, Fordham and UMass will face off Friday at 11 a.m. in the winner’s bracket, but victories are no certainty for either squad. Fordham will face No. 5 Saint Joseph’s at 11 a.m. after the Hawks routed Dayton 11-0 on Wednesday. Saint Joseph’s played two tight games with the Rams in the regular season, leaving the tying run on base in both matchups.

Meanwhile, UMass will have its hands full with George Washington, a 4-3 winner over Saint Louis in Wednesday’s opening round in Amherst. The Colonials (40-15) won the series finale against the Minutewomen last month and took UMass to extra innings in the first game of the three-game set. They are the highest-ranked A-10 team in the RPI at 128 – eight spots above UMass and 30 better than Fordham – and feature conference player of the year Jenna Cone and first-team pitcher Sierre Lange.

As much as the Minutewomen would prefer to beat Fordham and end the Rams’ streak of six consecutive A-10 titles, they really don’t care who they play on the road to winning a championship.

“They’re our biggest rival, obviously we want to beat them more than we want to beat anyone,” senior Kaitlyn Stavinoha said. “But we’ve got to play game one to get to that game, and who knows, they might not even win their first game. We can’t focus on them too much, we just have to focus on ourselves.”

UMass has plenty of motivation to win this week that extends far beyond exacting revenge for not finishing the task last season. The Minutewomen haven’t played in the NCAA Tournament since 2012, and this week is the final chance for several key members of the 2019 squad to play in the national postseason. The goal all year was to qualify for the conference tournament and earn a bye as a top-two seed. It accomplished both of those things, which means there is just one goal left for the Minutewomen to check off the list.

“This is what we think about all year,” Stavinoha said. “Everything we’re working for all year is for the Atlantic 10 championship. We’re pumped, we’re ready to go. Everybody is in the right frame of mind and we’re excited to get going.”


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