The No. 16 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team begins its difficult three-game road stint with a matchup against Harvard on Tuesday afternoon.
The Crimson (5-2, 1-1 Ivy League) feature an aggressive and energetic style of play, making them a very dangerous opponent.
“They’re playing the game, in my opinion, the way it should be played,” said UMass coach Greg Cannella.
Leading Harvard’s electric attack are senior Dean Gibbons and junior Jeff Cohen. Gibbons leads the team in points with 26 (15 goals, 11 assists) while Cohen stands first in goal-scoring with 18. Cannella has been very impressed with the duo’s play throughout their careers, calling them “potentially two of the better scorers in the Northeast.”
The firepower does not end there, as returning players Kevin Vaughan, Jeff Molinari and Daniel DiMaria allow Harvard to get up and down the field quickly and efficiently.
Crimson coach Chris Wojcik has implemented the up-tempo style of play in his first season at the helm, which has allowed his team to play to its strengths.
“Honestly, I’m happy and pleased to see that he’s letting [his team] play this style,” said Cannella, who coached against Wojcik when the Harvard coach played for the Crimson in the mid-1990s. “It takes a little bit of nerve as a young coach…to let your players go.”
The Crimson are young on the defensive end, with junior Paul Pate and sophomore Jason Gonos as the only returning starters. Freshmen Eric Slingerland and Brian O’Toole round out their young defensive midfield. O’Toole attended the same high school, Long Beach, as UMass goalkeeper Tim McCormack.
Sophomore Harry Krieger stands in net for Harvard in his first season as the full-time starter. The Timonium, Md. native has started all seven games and has allowed an average of 9.68 goals per contest.
“They have everything that you need to be successful as a team,” said Cannella.
Harvard had its four-game winning streak snapped on Saturday in a 9-8 loss at the hands of Dartmouth. Cohen led the charge with four goals, while sophomore Ryan Stevens added a hat trick and Gibbons distributed four assists.
The Minutemen have not played since their 8-7 loss to Penn State at home on March 19, suffering the loss in large part due to the tremendous play of freshman goalkeeper Austin Kaut. UMass had plenty of scoring opportunities, rifling 38 shots in the contest, but Kaut accumulated 25 saves.
Cannella does not want his offense to be discouraged after their last outing, but instead, to keep on shooting and stick with what they have done all year long.
“You don’t [want to] hammer it too much where the guys go out on the field and all they do is…think about [shooting],” he said. “You’d rather have those guys prepare themselves and feel at ease when they go out on the field so they don’t have to think about shooting.”
Cannella explained that his team has not done anything different with the extra preparation time, but has worked on trying to get in better scoring position with their shots.
He also believes getting off to a fast start will be key for his team’s mindset.
“You just hope the guys can see some success earlier in the game and hopefully roll with it,” said Cannella.
UMass dropped a close one in last year’s matchup between the two teams on March 13 at Garber Field. The Minutemen trailed 14-9 with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter before stringing together four unanswered goals to cut the deficit to one. It would be too little too late, however, as Harvard held on for the 14-13 victory.
Cohen and Gibbons each netted a pair of goals for the Crimson, while Will Manny, Art Kell and Anthony Biscardi recorded hat tricks.
The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
Stephen Sellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.