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UMass men’s lacrosse looks to continue improving throughout 2017 season

Chris O’Keefe/Collegian

The Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team heads into its third game of the 2017 campaign without a victory to its credit.

The Minutemen (0-2) lost their opening contest to Army West Point by a 9-2 margin in an underwhelming performance—totaling just 19 shots with nine reaching the opposing goalkeeper.

UMass responded the way one would expect after a tough defeat, and battled No. 20 Ohio State to the brink at Ohio Stadium over the weekend, but failed to upset the Buckeyes in an 8-7 nail-biter.

The improvement from week one to week two was evident, particularly in UMass’ offensive production. The Minutemen generated 29 shots, 10 more than the previous week and committed five less turnovers. Sophomore midfielder Ben Spencer tallied a hat trick in defeat—one goal more than UMass scored in 60 minutes in the opener at Garber Field.

“We’re working,” goalkeeper D.J. Smith said. “We’re going to be working throughout the season regardless of wins and losses. We’re just trying to get better every single time we get on the field. We’re definitely improving. We’re on the right path right now.”

“You want to be 2-0, but we’ve definitely progressed from the first week to last week and going on the road and playing a really good opponent in Ohio State and playing well enough to win,” Minutemen coach Greg Cannella said. “That’s progress. In terms of the attitude and enthusiasm that the guys had last week and into the weekend, that’s progress.”

Smith stopped 10 Buckeyes shots in Columbus for his second consecutive double-digit save performance after denying 12 shots from the Black Knights in the season opener.

The senior earned his starting spot over his fellow Minutemen goalies in the offseason and has been a vocal leader on and off the field in helping mentor the young defensive unit in front of him, which features freshmen Dan O’Brien, Dan Tracy, Jackson Suboch and Stephen Megnia.

That leadership, along with competent play of the last line of defense for UMass, will be crucial in securing future victories this season.

“Being a senior in general, being an upperclassman, that [leader] role kind of falls upon you in general,” Smith said. “Our whole team has stepped up leadership-wise. We have leaders in our senior class, junior class, sophomore class and freshmen class. As a whole, we’re doing great in terms of leadership. I think from the beginning of this year, regardless of playing time or not, I realized that I had a leadership role that was important to this team.”

The defense has been steady throughout the Minutemen’s first two games of the season, paced by Tyler Weeks, Shane Rinkus and Luc Valenza, among others.

Weeks and midfielder Isaac Paparo were the lone members of UMass to be recognized by the Colonial Athletic Association as preseason all-conference players. Paparo corralled a career-high six groundballs against the Ohio State and caused two turnovers in both contests this season.

The sophomore is taking the advice of his goalkeeper, coaches and fellow teammates and is following by example in trying to improve the play of himself and the team.

“It’s definitely tough losing, but as long as we’re making progress—it’s a long season. It counts in May and it definitely counts now,” Paparo said. “As long as we’re making strides in the right direction, I think everyone’s heads are still up.”

Paparo added: “[Coaches preach] playing fast and playing together. Coaches are harping that. The leadership on the team is harping that—the older guys, the captains. Everyone’s harping playing fast and play together and be tough. That’s kind of what the UMass way is all about—being tough. It may not be the most stylish play, but making the tough play. As long as we’re doing that each day that we’re out there, we’ll see success on Saturdays.”

The Minutemen have 11 games remaining, spanning just over two months, with conference opponents Delaware, Towson, Fairfield, Hofstra and Drexel awaiting at the conclusion of the 2017 slate.

In order for UMass to put together wins throughout the season, the overall execution in games, particularly on offense, needs to continue to improve.

“The hard work is paying off for everybody I think,” Weeks said. “We just have to keep grinding on it. It’s just a process and it takes some time to get into the flow of things but everyday we’re getting better.”

Tyler Bogart (two goals), Jake Lisauskas (goal), Shane Rinkus (goal), Gianni Bianchin (goal) and Dan Muller (goal) are among the key cogs in the offensive arsenal for the Minutemen, and whose execution and attitudes are crucial to UMass’ success and development.

“It’s energy, enthusiasm and attitude in an approach to what you do each day and that will get you where you want to be on Saturdays,” Cannella said. “I’m a firm believer in that if you don’t practice well, you’re not going to play well. I don’t believe in the ‘gamer’ thing. We’ve been preaching consistency. We’ve made some really good plays, obviously not enough good plays particularly on the offensive end, but we’re not consistent enough as individuals to be consistent as a team.”

Kyle DaLuz can be reached at kdaluz@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Kyle_DaLuz.

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