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UMass lax preps for match with reshaped Harvard

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Massachusetts men’s lacrosse freshman Nick Mariano has totaled six goals between his first two collegiate games, both wins for UMass (2-0). The attacker was also named Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week and Co-Rookie of the Week on Monday.

But as far as Chris Wojcik, the coach of Harvard—the Minutemen’s opponent on Saturday—is concerned, Mariano is simply playing to his ability. Wojcik, entering his fourth season with the Crimson, scouted the teen at Yorktown High School in Mohegan Lake, N.Y., during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

He said that Mariano’s capability to have multi-goal games at the Division I level is a threat that Harvard will look to stop in its season opener. The Crimson will also utilize Devin Dwyer (43 points) and Peter Schwartz (34 points), their top returning scorers.

“He’s got an excellent overall skill set and lacrosse IQ,” Wojcik said of Mariano. “Exceptional hands and finishing shooting ability—he’s got a quick release on his shot and he’s not just accurate, but he gets it out of his stick quickly, which can make it tougher for goalies to react and make saves.”

UMass coach Greg Cannella, in his 20th season, said the scouting report for Harvard isn’t straightforward. Harvard’s roster has taken a new shape after regaining defenseman Stephen Jahelka and attackman Will Walker, sophomores who were not with the team last year after playing in 2012.

The Minutemen beat the Crimson, 8-6, last season on Feb. 23 in Cambridge, and haven’t lost to Harvard since an 11-9 decision on March 29, 2011.

Still, Cannella warned against complacency by his team, especially on the heels of a dramatic 12-11 overtime win against Ohio State during the last time out. He also said his offense will have to find new outlets in case teams start to key on Mariano.

Mariano played against Dwyer and Jahelka in high school, but said both of their games have evolved since coming to college. The scorer isn’t harboring lofty statistical expectations for himself heading into the rivalry matchup. He just wants to win.

“You should feel confident enough to know your role and know what you have to do,” Mariano said. “We’re just going into this game open-minded.”

Matt Whippen, a senior, scored two goals in last season’s Harvard game. He expects the Crimson to be energized, speedy and out to prove themselves in their debut. The attacker added that UMass also has something to prove, despite a strong start this year.

“We still haven’t earned anything yet in our eyes,” Whippen said. He said that the senior class harps on the team putting every game, win or loss, in the past so it won’t be a distraction moving forward. “This week, we’re 0-0.”

Zach Oliveri, a redshirt sophomore goaltender, took the sentiment a step further, saying that his team is the underdog every time they step on the field, no matter where they are in the rankings.

Oliveri advised that UMass sticks to its “roots,” meaning a blue-collar work ethic, coupled with careful preparation, to come away with a win against the Crimson. A victory would mark his second straight in the lifetime series.

“It’s like a broken record,” Oliveri admitted. “You want to try and be consistent, be focused and really understand what we’re doing defensively. From my standpoint, I’m just trying to save the ball at the end of the day and be a leader for the guys.”

Cannella said that preparation is the only thing his team can control before facing an opponent with so many unknown variables. He called last year’s meeting a “dogfight” and expects the same on Saturday.

“We do our best to get ready and the chips are going to fall the way they do.”

Peter Cappiello can be reached at pcappiel@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @petecapps.

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