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Norfolk’s Matt Keys standing tall for UMass men’s soccer team

King Philip Regional grad
is a 2-way force at UMass

Matt Keys is well aware of his role on the men’s soccer team at University of Massachusetts Amherst. A starter at center back, his primary duty is to direct the Minutemen defense and shut down the opposing team’s offensive attack.

Because Keys has a proven ability to score, however, the Minutemen welcome his occasional bursts up the field, especially during a season in which they have struggled to score. The coaching staff also takes advantage of his height by moving the 6-foot-4 junior in front of the net on throw-ins and corner kicks.

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The King Philip Regional High graduate (class of 2011) from Norfolk notched three goals last fall, finishing as the team’s second-leading scorer.

The Minutemen, 0-4 entering Wednesday’s matchup against Hartford, have been shut out three times.

“We’ve struggled to score goals in the past,” said Keys, who scored 12 goals as a senior at King Philip, when he was also the team’s defensive MVP and earned All-America honors.

“Because I’m usually the tallest guy on the field, the coaches try to [take] advantage by running a pick-and-roll for me on our long throw-ins and corner kicks. Hopefully I can get open and try to flick it on the net.”

His main role, however, is as an enforcer and leader on defense. He has started every game since arriving at UMass, a streak that stands at 41 games. He was named to the Atlantic 10 Conference’s all-rookie squad after his freshman season.

“Even though he is 6-foot-4, he is one of our quickest players and brings some speed for us in the back,” said UMass coach Sam Koch.

“He’s a battler and a competitor. Playing center back, he gives us a lot of leadership just by his performance on the field, not to mention his natural ability to lead. Matt is constantly trying to be better as an individual, and is always conscious of the fact that this a team game and that he is just one player out of 11 on the field.”

Keys said that he models his game after Sergio Ramos, a tough defender for Real Madrid who often makes runs up the field. As the leader of the defensive unit, Keys helped UMass record five shutouts in each of his first two seasons. This fall, the Minutemen have allowed just five goals in four games, and held Evansville scoreless through two overtime periods in a 0-0 tie.

Last season Keys netted a pair of goals in a 3-0 win at George Washington, and scored on a header against Hartford.

“I think as a defender I try to be a leader, whether it means in terms of communication or being a leader in how I play, and encouraging the guys to work hard all the time by challenging 50-50 balls and also by trying to score but keeping things organized in the back,” he said.

A sports management major at UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management, Keys hopes to have the opportunity to play professional soccer after graduation. For now, however, he will hold down the fort on defense while contributing offensively when he can.

“I’ve been a defender all my life and I’m used to defense,” said Keys. “But I’ll lead a run up the field if there is open space and catch the other team off guard a little bit. It can be advantageous.”

He is not the lone member of the Keys family standing tall on the pitch.

Younger brother Jon, a 6-foot-8 freshman at Wentworth Institute of Technology, has started three games as a back for the Engineers (0-4).

High achievers

In a 4-0 week for the Framingham State women’s volleyball team, freshman outside hitter Alycia Rackliffe averaged 13.5 kills and 3.3 blocks to earn Player of the Week honors in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference. She was MVP at the UMass Dartmouth Invitational. . . . Meanwhile, Framingham State senior Marisa Parent was named Player of the Week in women’s soccer after netting all three goals in a 3-0 win over Keene State. . . . In the inaugural season of MASCAC football, Worcester State senior lineman Bryan Narcisse of Medway pocketed the first Defensive Player of the Week tag after a game-high 13 tackles and four sacks in a 34-6 win over Anna Maria.

John R. Johnson can be reached at jjohnson49@comcast.net.
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