UMass looks to younger players to fill roles
Massachusetts men’s lacrosse coach Greg Cannella has made it clear that certain players from last year’s roster simply can’t be replaced.
The Minutemen (1-0) graduated 11 seniors last spring, and spent the entire preseason picking out less experienced players to fill those roles that had once been occupied by the likes of Art Kell, Anthony Biscardi and Tim McCormack.
Based on the results of UMass’ 16-9 win over Army in Sunday’s season opener at Garber Field, some of the younger players have already exceeded Cannella’s initial expectations.
The second midfield line – consisting of junior Matt Whippen, sophomore Andrew Sokol and freshman Dan Muller – scored more goals combined (10) than the entire Black Knights roster. The three players on that line contributed a combined zero goals for the Minutemen last season.
Keeping Army at bay was redshirt freshman goalkeeper Zachary Oliveri, who made seven saves in his first collegiate start. Oliveri took over as the starter when McCormack graduated after finishing last season with a 7.1 goals-against average and a 60.6 save percentage, which was good for second in the nation.
While Cannella is happy with what he’s seen so far from his younger players, he said it’s meaningless if it doesn’t happen on a consistent basis.
“You gotta see it over time, you gotta see a consistent effort,” Cannella said. “You gotta see it happen three or four or five times a couple games. You just can’t rely on going, ‘Hey, we’re all set ‘cause it’s one game.’ There has to be consistency, and if there’s not then we need to continue to get better.”
UMass is still trying to solidify some roles left by last year’s seniors. One spot is the third spot on the top attack line with Will Manny and Kyle Smith, previously held by Kell (33 goals, 20 assists). Sophomore Grant Whiteway started in that spot on Sunday and registered an assist, but Cannella is still looking for more depth at that position.
Cannella also wants to shore up the fourth and fifth defensemen behind Jake Smith, James Fahey and Ryan Hollenbaugh, something that is still up in the air.
“I think every team needs contributions from a lot of people,” Cannella said, “and it needs to be on a consistent basis for a lot of people for sure.”
The Minutemen also lost some key midfielders in Mike Fetterly and Steve D’Amario, who combined for 44 points. The midfielders accounted for 14 of UMass’ 16 goals, including four assists from senior Bobby Tyler.
Tyler said he was happy to see the younger players such as Sokol and Muller come up big with so many players gone from last year’s team, and credited it to their preparation. But he doesn’t think Cannella wants players to fill a specific role.
“(Cannella) doesn’t want anyone to fill anyone else’s roles,” Tyler said. “He wants them to play well as a team and bring their game to the table for the team.”
What’s missing from the midfield this year is the toughness that Biscardi and Greg Rushing brought to the team. Their physical play and crushing hits fueled the Minutemen at key moments last year, and was a big reason for the team’s success.
Cannella sees players trying to fill that role so far, but thinks it’ll be the type of presence that’ll simply develop over time.
“I think the younger guys are trying to grow into that,” he said. “Early in the season they’re still trying to figure out for themselves where they are on the field and get themselves confident enough to just go out there and play, and then all that other stuff will show up in my opinion.”
While UMass waits for the younger guys to continue to grow into their roles and become consistent contributors, the Minutemen will likely look to the eight seniors on the current roster to keep the veteran presence strong.
Manny and Smith are the top returning scorers from last season, and Manny is a preseason candidate for the Tewaaraton Award after a 77-point output last season. It’s the veteran players that’ll be relied on to ease the growing pains and put UMass in position for success despite the leaders lost from last year.
“As a senior, you have a sense of urgency to try to win every game,” Tyler said.
On the contrary, the veteran players are aware of the need for the younger players to make a big impact. And through just one game, they were satisfied with what they saw.
“It was great seeing the younger guys step up, especially since we lost so many seniors last year,” Tyler said.
Nick Canelas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.