When the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team fell to Penn State last Saturday, it was in a game that featured a hard-nosed effort by the Minutemen to hold off the Nittany Lions for the majority of the game.
The defense felt absent however, as PSU scored three early goals in the first quarter, a run that hurt UMass (5-2, 0-1 Colonial Athletic Association) later on in the game as it tried to mount a comeback.
This has been a continuing issue for the Minutemen in 2011, as they haven’t had the best of luck opening games against their opponents. Through its first seven games, UMass has been outscored in the first quarter, 17-15, while leading or being tied with opponents in all the other quarters.
“That’s certainly an issue,” said UMass coach Greg Cannella. “I think maybe our guys are playing tentative early in the game and maybe they need something to get them in the game. I don’t know what it is, you know, a big hit, a big groundball, an early goal; whatever it is, they need a spark.”
UMass couldn’t get it done in the first half against Penn State in general, as it was outscored, 4-2, by the intermission, despite its 18 shots aimed at the Nittany Lions.
The Minutemen responded right out of the halftime break with a 3-1 advantage in the third. This is right on par with a tendency UMass has this season in scoring second half goals, as the team outscores its opponents, 25-7, in the third quarter.
Cannella said that he doesn’t try to change much of the mentality during the halftime break and that it’s really the players that decide to shift the focus.
“Maybe it’s just ‘enough is enough’ kind of a thing and ‘let’s do this,’” said Cannella. “Or maybe we need to settle down or turn it up.”
Cannella attributed the improved play in the second half to the increased focus of the players following intermission.
“I think if you prepare yourself the right way, [then] you put yourself in the right position to succeed early,” he said.
Preparing for the first half has been in the mind of the captains and the veterans of the squad, according to Cannella. After the PSU game, both captains and veterans came to the coaches and asked for some changes in practice to help with the lack of success early on in games.
“We take their suggestions and it changes the way we play at practice,” said Cannella. “If you’re going to do things in games, you need to practice them. By getting off to a better start in practice, maybe that’ll help us out on Tuesday.”
Tuesday’s affair against Harvard will be a true test for the first half offense, as the Crimson ended the first quarter of their past two contests with a 2-1 scoring advantage.
Tuesday’s game against the Crimson (5-2, 1-1 Ivy League) comes after a 10-day break for the Minutemen, which showed a change in their practice schedule. It is the first and final time UMass will have a 10-day absence from competition this season.
While typically the team practices Monday through Friday, with a game on Saturday, they had a different routine for this week, according to Cannella. However, Cannella said that he wasn’t sure if the 10-day break would have effect on his players.
“You see how you have a chance to reflect on some things, we need to work on some things especially with what we’re doing,” said Cannella. “Focus on some things defensively, some things on offense, getting back to where we were are, but those are the proofs of the pudding.”
Herb Scribner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.