As the No. 16 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team (1-0) opens its 2011 campaign, the team isn’t looking for one side of the field to do better than the other, but rather for both sides of the field to combine for a strong team effort.
“[We need to be] a cohesive unit as a team, rather than just offense and defense. We need everyone to be responsible for every responsibility on the field,” captain Casey Rahn said. “… It’s not just going to be just on the close defensemen … it’s going to be offensive guys who are taking reps at practice every day and really trying to improve their game as a defensive player.”
As the team prepares for its upcoming schedule, top players from all positions will be asked to help out on all ends of the field in order for UMass to make it back to the NCAA tournament.
The attack unit features one of UMass’ top players in Will Manny, who returns as a sophomore looking to build on his impressive debut season (27 goals, 18 assists).
With Manny being the top attacker for the Minutemen, coach Gregory Cannella wants the team to work with and around Manny, allowing him to make plays while guiding and providing help to other players.
“I want him to make a lot of plays. I just want him to make the right decisions and do the best that he can, and hopefully, people will follow his lead,” Cannella said.
One of the attackmen he hopes will follow in Manny’s footsteps is junior Art Kell, who returns after suffering a broken foot against Hofstra last season. Kell already opened it up offensively in UMass’ season opener against Army by scoring a goal, resulting in an 8-5 victory for the Minutemen.
“[By] having Art back this year, its going take a lot of pressure off a lot of people,” Manny said. “He’s a great player and he takes a lot of eyes from the defense.”
Also following Manny’s lead will be Colin Fleming, Steve D’Amario and Mike Fetterly, all of whom scored a goal against the Black Knights (0-1). Fleming and Manny hooked up twice in the season-opener, which Canella said is what he is looking for out of his attack this season.
“I think that kind of thing is contagious,” Cannella said. “You hope that some of the experiences these guys have had, Willy’s had, Arty’s had, the guys in the midfield have had, will be able to settle things down at times.”
With experience and a high-range of goal scorers, Manny was quick to admit the attack will gel nicely with all sides of the field.
“With the firepower we have – we have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the net – I’m just hoping we can all contribute and help each other out,” Manny said.
One of the strengths the Minutemen had against Army was their ability to lockdown on the defensive front. The midfield also moved back and disallowed the Black Knights from carrying the ball down the field consistently.
This season, UMass returns with a deep midfield lineup made up of both offensive and defensive middies, players which could help ease the transition from attacking to defending. Cannella said Fleming, D’Amario and Fetterly are capable of converting to the midfield.
Midfielders Ryan Izzo, Anthony Biscardi and captain Ryan Hantverk will help generate scoring opportunities as they push and keep the ball up field. Biscardi found the back of the net against the Black Knights, which fits directly into what Cannella wants the midfield to improve on from the end of last season.
“You hope everybody can chip in a little bit and contribute,” Cannella said. “We weren’t able to create out of the midfield at the end of the last year, and we’re hoping we can do that this year.”
While offensively the midfield is structured and deep, the defensive midfielders will be called for by the defensive line on a regular basis, according to Rahn, a long pole defensive midfielder.
“[We’re] absolutely looking for help from the midfield,” Rahn said. “Midfielders are two-way players, and we have offensive and defensive and two-way guys. That’s always going to be a part of the defensive unit and you’re always going to need to rely somewhat on your midfield.”
Rahn will look to lead the Minutemen’s defense this year, which is already off to a hot start. Against Army, UMass allowed four goals, then locked down on the Black Knights and allowed them little possession time.
Defending the ball with Rahn will be Tom Celentani, Greg Anderson, Jake Smith, Travis Tripucka and Brett Tobin, among others. Tobin kicked off the season with a groundball against Army, and he will look to work with the rest of the Minutemen defensive unit which, Rahn explained, needs to focus on communication above all other strategies.
“We really are stressing individual play as well as team play [and] communication as a group,” Rahn said. “We need to be a cohesive unit going forward and without that, without the communication, without the talking and the great relationships that we have as a defensive unit, we don’t have what we’re looking for.”
From the cage, goalkeeper Tim McCormack is looking for help from the defense in securing goals, and said that it’s all about playing good individually as well as team-oriented defense.
“Just get out there and cover your guys individually, one-on-one, play good one-on-one defense and play great team defense, which is what we go out and practice everyday,” McCormack said.
As a captain, McCormack will lead the goalkeeping position as he looks to help freshman Reed Goodhue build upon his game. This is a running theme for McCormack, who has had to step up as a leader.
“The leadership I think I bring is kind of keeping them aware, keeping my defensemen up on what’s going on,” McCormack said. “Clearing game is a whole other role. I’ve got to direct and give certain ways to pass it or throw it or [who] to throw it to.”
McCormack already began showing strength in the net with nine saves against Army. These saves were crucial against a very offensively-strong Army side, and McCormack hopes this will be indicative of his performance the rest of the season.
Herb Scribner can be reached at email@example.com.