A young offense, an experienced defense and a new goalkeeper between the pipes defines the 2010 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team.
But for UMass coach Greg Cannella and the rest of the Minutemen, if all goes the way they want it to, the team could reach their second-straight NCAA tournament birth in their new conference, the Colonial Athletic Association.
UMass lost 70 goals with the graduation of attackmen Tim Balise and Jim Connolly last season. As a result, Cannella brought in seven freshmen in the midfield and attack to help rebuild the offense, while relying on the defense to anchor the team.
“I think with all the new faces, there’s no complacency, and I don’t think there’s any room for it, I don’t think they know any better,” Cannella said.
Despite his team’s recent success, Cannella knows his squad must not get ahead of themselves, and must do the little things correctly in order to win games.
“The one thing I see with this team is that they are going to grow from week to week here, and we need that growth if we want to have any shot of getting to the NCAA tournament this year, for sure,” Cannella said.
Here’s a look at the 2010 Minutemen by position, as they open their season Friday against Sacred Heart.
Losing All-American, Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Goalie of the Year and Tewaaraton Trophy nominee Doc Schneider to graduation won’t be easy for the Minutemen.
Luckily for redshirt sophomore Tim McCormick and freshman Steve Mahle, Schneider is now an assistant coach with the Minutemen, while former faceoff man Joe Reale is also helping out the team.
“It’s great to have them, those guys are UMass guys through and through,” Cannella said. “They love doing this; that’s why they are doing it, because the message that they send is the same message we’ve sent for 16 years here.”
As a backup to Schneider his freshman year in 2008, McCormick played in two games while making four saves, but sat out last season to regain three years of eligibility.
Mahle, a highly touted recruit out of West Genesee High School in Camillus N.Y., was impressive in the second half of UMass’ first scrimmage against Saint John’s on Jan. 30.
“Those guys have done a really good job, they’ve been competing all year,” Cannella said. “Timmy [McCormick] probably has a little bit more experience, and when push comes to shove, that might push him over the top, but again, they’re still competing.”
McCormick is more experienced in the clearing game, and is familiar with the defensive sets the Minutemen like to use, so it won’t be a surprise if he gets the starting nod.
Both are big athletes who have dropped a considerable amount of weight to get into playing shape, and the presence of Schneider should pay off for both Mahle and McCormick, regardless of whomever is the starter against SHU.
After backing up Schneider last season and playing in six games, transfer Mael Walkowiak has switched and made the transition to the defensive midfield for UMass.
This unit, anchored by captain and 2009 All-American Diogo Godoi, should be just as impressive as last season. Along with sophomore Greg Anderson and Travis Tripucka, the group that was sixth in the NCAA in man-down defense (12 goals on 58 chances) should be strong in the clearing and transition games. Add three-year starters and skilled midfielders Casey Rahn and Steve Zorkers into the mix, and the Minutemen might come away with the most athletic, high-energy defensive unit in the CAA.
“Most of our critical mass, most of our experience is on that side of the ball, and again, that type of experience, you can’t do without it,” Cannella said.
Sophomore Tom Celentani and freshman Jake Smith should also see extended time on close defense.
Senior captain Bobby Hayes, who led the team in assists in 2009, looks to rub off on some of his younger teammates with the losses of Evan Blum, Rory Pedrick and Reale.
The only other significant experience this unit has comes from Ryan Hantverk, Ryan Marcus and Anthony Biscardi, who all looked strong against the Red Storm in the scrimmage. But, even with the inexperience, there is a lot of talent, including freshman Colin Fleming and sophomore Anthony Toresco, who will take a lot of faceoffs for the Minutemen.
With the help of the defense, the midfield will rely on Hayes to step up and be the leader in order for UMass to be successful in the transition game as well as the offensive attack.
“You talk to the guys about shooting at a higher percentage, between 30 and 40 percent, and if you get to that range, you’re going to score probably in the teens, and that should get you over the hump when it comes to winning and losing,” Cannella said.
Even with senior Ryan Smith named a captain, the attack’s most seasoned player is sophomore Art Kell, who started all 15 games in 2009, scoring 11 goals and notching three assists. Smith will look to join Kell, as well as redshirt junior Ryan Liebel and freshmen Kyle Smith and Will Manny in the attack in hopes of generating as many goals as a year ago. In order for that to happen, Cannella wants his team to get to the goal on one fake instead of three fakes, to get open looks and to finish accurately, no matter who is the opposing goalkeeper.
“It’s a young group, we kind of have to pry them along, and those guys again have included everybody in this. I think everybody knows that they own this, and I think if that message gets through, especially from our seniors, and everyone comes prepared, they will do a heck of a job,” Cannella said.
David Brinch can be reached at email@example.com.