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Despite 3-2 OT loss to JMU, field hockey players' confidence soars

The University of Richmond field hockey team may have suffered its fifth consecutive defeat Friday, but senior Alexa Malatesta considered it a victory for the Spiders.

"This is a big win for Spider hockey, even though the score didn't fall our way," she said after the team's 3-2 overtime loss to No. 7 James Madison University. "The seventh-ranked team was coming in here to sweep us away, and we outplayed them the entire time. We embarassed that team. And it's a big step in the right direction for the rest of our games. We're very confident."

With the score tied 2-2 in overtime, JMU senior Ashley Walls squeezed through the Spider defense and scored at 1 minute, 33 seconds after Richmond goalie Becca Weaver was drawn out of the goal to make a save, fell, then failed to stop Walls' rebound shot. It was Walls' second overtime-winning goal in three games.

"One of JMU's players ... came out of nowhere," Weaver, who had 12 saves, said of the overtime goal. "I knew the ball was going to cross, so I came out. My defense recovered back, but JMU was very attacking and aggressive."

Richmond was playing for the first time under a new formation that includes using an extra back and calls for more aggressive play from midfielders -- an effort to bolster their defense against opponents. It proved effective throughout the first half.

JMU struck first, scoring at 2:09 into the game off a corner shot. But the Spiders played aggressively and responded in the 13th minute with a goal from freshman Grace Krafte, assisted by freshman Katelin Peterson. The score remained 1-1 at the end of the first half.

In the second half, JMU adapted quickly to the Spiders' intensity and dominated control of the ball, eventually scoring in the 46th minute off a goal from Melissa Stefaniak.

Still, the Spiders capitalized on one of their only opportunities of the half when Malatesta scored in the 60th minute off a penalty shot awarded after some scuffling in front of JMU's goal.

The game remained tied at the end of regulation, with James Madison having 23 shots on goal to Richmond's 5. JMU shot twice more before the game's end.

"Most of the season we've struggled to maintain the kind of intensity with start out with for 70 minutes," Malatesta said. "We slipped back into an old habit in the second half, but we got it back and fought harder than we ever had."

Despite the loss, the Spiders were largely positive about keeping a game against a highly ranked team so close.

"Today was absolutely the turning point," Weaver said. "I think everyone's confidence is really high. We had girls asking for subs because they were spent from playing so hard. We just wanted to set a standard for ourselves and show the country that we were back, and we were ready to play."

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Coach Gina Lucido said that while the loss was bitter, the game gave the team important confidence.

"We put an entirely new system in -- a style of play that we haven't had," she said. "We wanted it to play to our strengths, and it did. We can compete with whoever we're playing against. It's a big victory for us today."

The Spiders will continue to develop their new formation, refining players' roles and positions so the system is ready for the Atlantic 10 conference tournament.

Richmond's next game is 1 p.m. Sunday, when the team plays the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg.

Contact staff writer Dan Petty at dan.petty@richmond.edu

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