Massachusetts, the surprise of last year's Men's College Cup, was almost written off half way through the 2008 campaign, but the Minutemen look set to return to the NCAA Division I Men's Tournament after running off six straight wins to earn the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic-10 Tournament, which continues Friday with the semifinals at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
UMass will meet No. 19 Saint Louis in a rematch of last Friday's 2-1 overtime win in Amherst.
Things didn't look so rosy for the Minutemen in mid-October after a 1-0 loss at Rhode Island in their A-10 opener dropped them to 2-6-2. But since then, UMass is undefeated in conference play (7-0-1).
"When we played at Rhode Island, we played well but we just didn't get the result." UMass coach Sam Koch told the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. "We knew that even though things didn't go our way that we weren't a bad team."
Key for UMass has been the play of sophomore Ben Arikian. He set up both goals in the 2-1 overtime win over Saint Louis and scored the winner in the 1-0 win over Charlotte that gave the Minutemen the A-10 regular-season championship.
He was named the A-10's Midfielder of the Year. Goalie Zack Simmons (0.83 GAA) earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in the A-10.
Simmons and Arikian were joined on the all-conference first team by teammates Chris Brown and Mark DeSantis.
Koch earned Coach of the Year honors.