UMass Boston women's soccer is preparing for their most difficult Little East Conference contest of the season thus far, as they take on Keene State College Saturday at 1 p.m. at Owl Athletic Complex.
After dropping 15 of their first 16 contests against the Owls, UMass Boston earned a sweep over Keene State College last year, including a 3-0 victory in the Little East Conference Semifinals.
WHAT IT MEANS: Saturday's contest pits two of the top three teams in the Little East Conference and the two hottest sides by far.
Keene State sits atop the Little East with a 4-0 conference mark and 11-3-1 record, after having their nine-game winning streak come to an end Wednesday night against nationally-ranked Amherst College.
The Beacons are tied for the first in the Little East Conference at 3-1 with Western Connecticut State University, and sport a 10-4 record. After starting the year 2-3, the Beacons have won four in a row and eight of their past nine coming into this weekend's game.
A win for the Owls would likely clinch them at least a share of the Little East Conference Regular Season Title, with just two games left to play after Saturday.
A win for the Beacons would put them into the drivers seat in the Little East Conference race for the number one seed, as UMass Boston will finish off their season against Plymouth State University (1-3 Little East) and Rhode Island College (0-4 Little East).
ALL-TIME SERIES: Keene State and 22nd year coach head coach Denise Lyons have traditionally dominated the Beacons ever since they arrived in the Little East Conference in 1997.
The Owls hold a 15-2-1 advantage over UMass Boston all-time, but the Beacons earned a pair of victories last season at the Clark Athletic Field.
UMass Boston picked up their first ever win against the Owls on September 15, 2012 behind a six-point day from junior Amanda Pugliese (Pembroke, Mass.). The then sophomore transfer scored the first two goals of her collegiate career, while fellow midfielder Sam Cristoforo (Rockland, Mass.) added a goal and two assists.
The Beacons and Owls faced off again in the Little East Conference Semifinals. Cristoforo proved to be the hero in the 3-0 win for UMB, as she picked up her second game-winning goal of the year against the Owls and added an assist.
Goalie Kristen Spain finished 2-0 and made 11 saves over 180 minutes against the Owls, while forwards Krista Ledin (Bridgewater, Mass.) and Tayla Andrews (Plymouth, Mass.) scored a goal in each contest for the Beacons.
SCOUTING THE OWLS: Keene State entered this week as the 10th ranked team in New England, after picking up their ninth straight win last weekend. The Owls have been dominant at home, earning a 6-1-1 mark at Owl Athletic Complex and outscoring their opponents 22-7.
Two-time Little East Conference All-Conference seniors Jessica Berthiaume and Kelsie Bailey have led the Owls for the third straight season.
Berthiaume paces the Owls offensively with her eight goals, three game-winning goals and 19 points. Brittany Boscarino, Kristen Huckins and Kara Pavlidis all join Berthiaume in double-digit points, as the Owls have had nine different players register a goal this season. The team's incredible balance has helped Keene State post the second-best goals per game average in the conference this year at 2.27.
Defensively, Bailey and junior keeper Victoria Crenson have helped Keene State post the second best goals against average in the league at .94 goals against average this year. Crenson is in her second year as the team's starting goaltender and recorded a .794 save percentage and .97 goals against average.
SCOUTING THE BEACONS: UMass Boston is hitting on all cylinders recently after picking up their fourth straight victory Wednesday over Western New England University. The Beacons have scored three goals or more in all four wins and have outscored their opponents 17-3.
Offensively it all starts up top, where Ledin and Plymouth sit in first and second in the Little East Conference in scoring and have helped the Beacons record a league-best 2.69 goals per game.
Ledin is on pace to break her own program and Little East conference records for goals (26) and points (64), as she already has 22 goals and 49 points through 14 games. Andrews has been nearly as impressive, registering 11 goals and 26 points, while putting together her best games against the toughest competition on the Beacons schedule.
On defense, juniors Brittany Castillo (Yarmouth, Mass.) and Kristen Spain (Quincy, Mass.) have helped anchor a Beacons defense that has allowed just .92 goals per game-the best mark in the Little East. Castillo has not only been a force on defense, but has also tallied the third most goals (three) and points (10) on the team.
In net, Spain has built off her terrific first season with the Beacons, by posting 5.5 shutouts, a .93 goals against average and an .824 goals against average.
KEY TO THE GAME: Both teams sport a tremendous amount of talent at forward, defense and in net, but the Beacons two central midfielders (Cristoforo and Pugliese) proved to be the difference in last season's game. If the Beacons midfielders can dominate the ball and create great chances for their forwards once again, it could prove to be enough for the Beacons to earn a key road win.