When the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team’s flight home from Atlanta landed on Sunday, its 12-11 comeback win over No. 4 North Carolina became ancient history.
It no longer mattered that the Minutemen (2-0) overcame an 11-8 third quarter deficit. It no longer mattered that they outscored one of the most respected teams in the nation, 4-0, in the fourth quarter. It no longer mattered that freshman goalkeeper Zachary Oliveri made 18 saves against a dangerous UNC attack unit.
And it no longer mattered that all of this was done without the services of one of the most dangerous attackmen in the nation in Will Manny.
All that mattered when No. 5 UMass returned to practice on Monday was its next opponent: Harvard.
UMass coach Greg Cannella reminded his team during the scout portion of Monday’s practice that the senior class is 1-2 against the Crimson, and, with a loss on Saturday, would finish their careers with a losing record against their intrastate rival. The Minutemen used this as motivation throughout the week.
“We don’t want our seniors to go out with a losing record (against Harvard),” said junior Connor Mooney, who scored the game-winning goal in the win over UNC. “It’s a big rivalry for us.”
The lone win came last season in a 16-8 win at Garber Field. But this year’s opponent is much different. Harvard graduated two of its top three scorers from last season, but also brings in the fourth-ranked recruiting class in the nation.
The Crimson do return their second-leading scorer in Daniel Eipp. The junior attackman’s athleticism and scoring ability produced 24 goals and 18 assists last season, and he is likely to be their biggest threat come Saturday.
Harvard plays its season-opener against UMass coming off a disappointing, 6-8 mark, while the Minutemen come into the weekend with two games under their belts. Cannella sees this as something that could benefit either team.
“You could see it both ways,” he said. “Yes, we’ve played two games and worked some kinks out, (but) they have two games that they’ve scouted us on and we have no games that we’ve scouted them on.”
Mooney said, “We know how excited we were for our first game. They’ll come out with intensity and it’ll be our job to smash that.”
UMass may be undefeated, but has suffered some tough losses early on. None was bigger than Manny, who will miss at least a month with a broken thumb. The senior scored a team-high 77 points for the Minutemen last season, and was an early-season Tewaaraton Award nominee this year.
UMass turned to other role players to step up and fill the void, including Mooney and sophomore Grant Whiteway, who scored three and two goals, respectively, on Saturday.
Cannella liked the way his players stepped up in the absence of Manny, but wants to see it happen consistently.
“You do that once and hopefully you have the ability to bank that and know that you can do it again,” he said. “But you still have to go out and do it again.”
Both Colin Fleming and James Fahey also left Saturday’s game due to injuries.
Fleming missed the Minutemen’s season-opener against Army with a sprained ankle, and twisted his ankle again against the Tar Heels. His status for this weekend is uncertain, according to Cannella, and he’ll be reevaluated at the end of the week.
Cannella said that Fahey is also being evaluated, but his chances for this weekend aren’t as likely.
Regardless of who’s out there, UMass could potentially be the highest-ranked team the Crimson face all year. Harvard will especially be motivated coming off a down year last season.
With that in mind, Cannella is aware that there is little room for complacency despite the Minutemen’s strong start.
“If we think we’re gonna go down there and just show up and win because we won last week,” he said, “then we’re gonna get our butts kicked.”
Face-off is set for 1 p.m. in Cambridge.
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.