On any team, senior leadership is essential to being successful.
Just ask the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team.
Last season, the Minutemen (7-2, 2-0 Colonial Athletic Association) reached their 18th NCAA Tournament, thanks in part to a senior class that was one of UMass’ best ever.
Goalkeeper Doc Schneider and attackmen Jim Connolly and Tim Balise helped the Minutemen with their play on the field, while setting the tone for underclassmen and seasons to come.
This season, UMass has gotten consistent play from its six seniors, who will be honored this Saturday when the No.7 Minutemen host Towson riding a four-game winning streak at Garber Field.
“It’s a really good group, and fortunately for us right now, the seniors are playing their best lacrosse that they have,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said.
Midfielders Bobby Hayes and Christian Hain have been instrumental in the offensive zone, helping the Minutemen bolster a young offense that is averaging 13.3 goals per game, good for sixth in the NCAA.
Hayes, a captain and four year starter for UMass, has 16 goals and nine assists, while Hain (eight goals, six assists) has led the second line of midfielders and has helped them find the back of net.
The Minutemen have just 15 upper classmen on their roster, and lost a significant amount of goals from Connolly (39 goals), Balise (31) and Evan Blum (14).
That being said, players like Hayes and Hain have helped underclassmen in adjusting to the college game, along with Schneider and midfielder Joe Reale, who are now coaching some of their former teammates as assistants for the Minutemen.
“We ask our guys, our seniors, to hopefully have that ability every year, so there’s a good leadership group, they play the right way,” Cannella said.
Along with Hayes and Hain, fifth-year captain defenseman Diogo Godoi has 18 groundballs and 16 caused turnovers, and played an instrumental role in the win against Penn State last weekend. Godoi intercepted a pass which set up the game-winning goal, and was named to the Inside Lacrosse National Team of the Week and named UMass Athlete of the Week. Godoi also held the Nittany Lions’ leading scorer, Matthew Mackrides (25 goals, 30 points) pointless in the victory on Saturday.
Midfielder Kevin Wright has used his speed to transition to the defensive midfield in his senior year, playing in all nine games and grabbing eight ground balls.
Along with Wright, long stick midfielder Will Jeffery has helped in the defensive midfield and transition game. Jeffery, a transfer from Butler, has started all nine games this season, while recording seven groundballs, five caused turnovers and an assist against Harvard earlier this season.
Captain attackman Ryan Smith is a fulltime starter now after playing in just seven games in his first three seasons.
Smith has scored four goals this season, including his first career hat trick and first goals of his career against Hartford.
In four years, the senior class is a combined 28-24, including the 2009 ECAC Championship and the NCAA Tournament berth. Godoi, who redshirted in 2007 after breaking his hand, played in the 2006 NCAA Championship.
Kell’s status uncertain
After not playing in the victory over the Nittany Lions with a foot injury, sophomore attackman Art Kell’s status for Saturday’s game against the Tigers is still uncertain. Kell, who leads the team with 33 points, 21 goals and 13 assists, is 13th in the NCAA in points per game (4.13).
Kell is the only returning attackman from last season, starting alongside Balise and Connolly and registering 11 goals and three assists, leading all freshmen scorers.
David Brinch can be reached at email@example.com.