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Minutemen poised to make national tournament

Maxwell Sparr/Collegian

Maxwell Sparr/Collegian

It’s safe to say that the end of the 2010 season left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team.

After beginning last year with seven wins in its first nine games, UMass dropped four of its final five contests, including a semifinals matchup with Towson in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

This year, the Minutemen are out to prove that they are the team that showed glimpses of being a postseason threat and not the team that faltered down the stretch.

While UMass coach Greg Cannella won’t latch last season and this season together, his players can’t help but show their eagerness to get back on the field.

“You have just so much pent up from last year, it was not how we wanted it to end,” senior longpole midfielder Casey Rahn said. “We’ve really established a precedent that we’re not going to be in that position.”

With the majority of their roster intact from last year, the Minutemen are pegged as one of the top teams in the nations, ranking No. 15 in the Inside Lacrosse/Face-Off Yearbook preseason poll and No. 19 in the preseason coaches poll.

Of its 13 games on the schedule, UMass will take on five teams ranked in the preseason polls, including Hofstra (No. 9 IL poll/ No. 11 Coaches poll), Army (13/16), Brown (17/NR), Drexel (19/17) and Delaware (NR/15).

To get through the stiff competition and live up to the high expectations, Cannella will rely on the leadership of his team, which appears to be a point of emphasis this season.

“Leadership is a point that coach stresses every day,” sophomore attackman Will Manny said. “It goes from the freshman to sophomores to juniors, seniors. We’re all together, all the time and it really should come through all of us.”

Cannella knows it’s easy to appoint leaders and talk about it in the preseason. In his mind, however, it’s truly built in adverse conditions and when it’s needed the most.

“We’re building that on the go here, in terms of the leadership,” Cannella said. “I think leadership is really forged when there’s adversity … So far, we haven’t had to deal with any of that, in terms of real games and real issues with our team.”

The Minutemen are led by a trio of captains in Rahn, senior midfielder Ryan Hantverk and junior goalie Tim McCormack. Not only will all three be asked to provide leadership, but also to contribute significantly on the field.

The captain tag adds another layer of responsibility and can over-concern a player into worrying more about the play of others than his own. While any player is susceptible to that, Cannella knows McCormack’s focus is especially important as a goalie.

“You have to be very careful with Tim, he’s been able to balance that out so we do have confidence with him leading that side of the field,” Cannella said.

On the offensive end, Manny will anchor a potent unit after posting a team-high 27 goals and 18 assists as a freshman. The 5-foot-9-inch attacker was ranked as the No. 2 rookie by Inside Lacrosse last year and will look to be more of a playmaker this season.

Along with Manny, UMass returns four of its top five scorers, including Anthony Biscardi (21 goals, 14 assists) and Hantverk (15 goals, 12 assists).

While Cannella would like to ideally have eight or nine reliable scorers, he knows that’s likely not going to be the case, meaning the attackers will be leaned on heavily.

One player who will add a boost to begin the season is junior attacker Art Kell. Kell missed the final six contests last year with a broken foot after notching 21 goals and 12 assists in eight games.

Aside from Kell, the Minutemen struggled with other various injuries, a definite factor in their late-season slide. This season, Cannella is hoping for better luck with health.

“Right now, I think we lack the depth, especially on the offensive end,” Cannella said. “I think that we certainly need to maintain our health. That will be critical to our success this year.”

The incoming freshmen will also be looked at to contribute. Attacker Connor Mooney highlights the incoming class, proclaimed by Cannella to be an outstanding goal scorer who will make an immediate impact.

“Typically, a lot of the guys we get, we need to develop them over a certain amount of time,” Cannella said. “[Connor] came in and was a guy who’s ready to go right away.”

Facing a test in its first game of the season against No. 12 Army, UMass earned an 8-5 victory. The Minutemen dominated on offense, outshooting the Black Knights, 50-22, while the defensive unit forced Army into 20 turnovers.

Sophomore Colin Fleming scored two goals while Biscardi and Manny each posted a goal and two assists for three points on the day.

McCormack recorded nine saves in the cage and shut out Army in the first and third periods.

Cannella and the Minutemen were pleased with their performance in the season-opener but realized it’s a long season. While one win, especially against a ranked opponent, can result in momentum, it can easily disappear unless the strong play is maintained.

“We have to come harder and harder every single game and slowly climax towards the end of the season which we would like to think is a national championship,” Rahn said.

Jay Asser can be reached at jasser@student.umass.edu.

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