UMass men’s lacrosse opens season Saturday vs. Army

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

After an underachieving 2016 season in which it missed the playoffs, the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team hopes to turn things around this year. The Minutemen’s season starts Saturday as they take on Army at 1 p.m. at Garber Field.

“I think the beginning of every year people are excited to play,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said. “For us, we’re different. We’re a spring sport so we train from September. You’re always training, but you’re training with them from September until February. So there’s a lot of excitement with everybody within the program. The guys are anxious to get back out there.”

He added, “We play some scrimmages in the fall and some scrimmages in the spring but they’re anxious to get back out there and do the real thing. This is the fun part.”

This will mark the seventh-straight season UMass has opened up against Army, making it a familiar non-conference opponent. The Minutemen are 4-2 in their past six matchups with the Black Knights.

“I think if you play a team that many years you develop rivalries and some familiarity with the style of the team you play but teams change,” Cannella said. “They’re different from last year just as we’re different from last year.”

Though UMass has the series advantage against Army, it has been the Black Knights who have had the Minutemen’s number recently. Army has won the last two matchups; last year’s game being tied 5-5 in the fourth period before the Black Knights tallied off four straight goals to give them a 9-5 victory.

“Every team is different every year,” senior defensemen Tyler Weeks said. “Every game is kind of a new one. Just got to prepare each year like it’s its own.”

Cannella knows his team will be motivated to avenge last season’s loss, but hopes they prepare diligently for every opponent they face this year.

“[Last year’s game] seems like a century ago to these guys, but hopefully they’re motivated for every game,” Cannella said. “It doesn’t matter who your opponent is because with the schools that we play. Everyone can beat us and we can beat everybody, so if you think someone’s not good, they’ll beat you. If you think someone is really, really good, maybe you prepare differently and you can beat them. So let’s prepare the same way for every game.”

The series with Army has given Cannella a good understanding of the way the Black Knights play. He feels they are a team that, when they come to town, you know what you’re getting.

“They’re tough, they’re well coached, they’re organized and the last two years they’ve put it on us,” Cannella said. “They’ve been very physical with us, two years ago at home they thumped us, last year was a closer game 5-5 in the fourth and then they score four straight. So you know what you’re getting with them. [They’re] high energy group.”

UMass will be led this year by Colonial Athletic Association preseason all-conference players Isaac Paparo and Weeks. Paparo, a sophomore long-stick midfielder, collected 27 ground balls last season, forced six turnovers and had five points. He was named to the all-CAA second team last season.

Weeks was a key member of the defense through the first eight games of the year last year, collecting 12 ground balls and earning two points before his season was cut short due to injury. He feels the team is ready to go at the start of the season.

“A lot of preparation went into this,” Weeks said. “I think we’re at a good spot. Everyone’s working hard day in, day out. It should be a good one.”

Thomas Johnston can be reached at tjohnston@umass.edu or followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.

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