Expect there to be first-game jitters for the No. 13 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team when it takes the field for a new season.
And that’s OK, according to UMass coach Greg Cannella.
“There should be. I mean if you’re not nervous then you don’t care,” Cannella said. “We just hope that guys can get past that. You don’t want your team to be tentative, especially in the first five minutes of the game like this or any game honestly.
“It’s OK to be nervous, there’s nothing wrong with it,” he said. “That means you’re getting yourself ready to play in my opinion.”
The Minutemen will welcome Army to Garber Field on Sunday for a noon start time. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday, but it was postponed due to impending weather.
The last time the Minutemen played at Garber Field, they lost to Colgate, 13-11, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
But this is a new year and senior attacker Kyle Smith is ready to play important games again.
“Coach (Cannella) the last week and a half now has really been all over us and it’s a good thing, we need it,” Smith said. “I think we are finally ready to keep score for a game. It should be good.
“We’re all pretty excited for Army,” he said, “I mean I can’t wait for (Sunday).”
But Cannella said UMass is still a “work in progress” and there are still multiple roster spots that must be filled before Sunday’s game.
One of those spots is starting goalkeeper. The Minutemen lost the reliable Tim McCormack to graduation last year and are left with two options, junior Reed Goodhue or redshirt freshman Zachary Oliveri.
Oliveri got the nod in UMass’ last scrimmage against Siena and when asked if that makes Oliveri the frontrunner for starting goalie, Cannella said, “Yeah you can assume that, yeah sure.”
Goalie isn’t the only question mark, however. The Minutemen lost several talented offensive players from last season including Greg Rushing, Art Kell and Anthony Biscardi to name a few.
“We continue to need to establish certain spots on our team; Maybe fourth defenseman, maybe fourth attackman, sixth, seventh and eighth midfielders,” Cannella said. “Typically we play two offensive lines and you need guys who are going to be able to step up if somebody falters there or somebody gets injured.”
As for the Black Knights, they are led by Garrett Thul and John Glesener. Thul lead Army with 39 goals and 43 points last season and Glesener led the team in assists (17) and was second in points (33).
“They’ve got two players in Thul and Glesener that are monsters,” Cannella said, “that are just stud athletes and stud lacrosse players.”
The Black Knights defense this year will be lead by senior Brendan Buckley, who had 23 groundballs and 30 caused turnovers last season.
“Defensively (they’re) very aggressive in the past, but a disciplined group that we’ve had some hard fought battles with,” Cannella said.
Army will have to make a decision on who its starting goalie will be as well after Zach Palmieri graduated last year. Sam Somers played the most minutes in relief of Palmieri last season with a total of 36:51 in net. In the four games that he saw action, Somers had a goal-against average of 8.14 and a .444 save percentage.
The two teams are no strangers to each other as UMass has opened the past two years with the Black Knights. The Minutemen began their undefeated regular season last year with a 12-9 victory over Army in West Point, N.Y. The two teams opened the 2011 season in Amherst, a game that UMass won 8-5.
Because of the familiarity, Cannella is expecting a physical game on Sunday.
“They’re very well coached,” Cannella said. “They’re always tough, always physical. … We’ve been scrimmaging them probably the last six or seven years and just playing them the last two years. This will be our third game with them since the mid 90’s when we used to play them. It will be a physical, they’ll bring some physicality, and they’ll bring some emotion as well.”
Cameron McDonough can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough.