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May 10, 2017

UMass men’s lacrosse heads into Colonial Athletic Association play with confidence

Jong Man Kim/Collegian

There’s an old myth in sports that states that it may be dangerous for teams to begin peaking too early, or at the wrong point in the season.

The Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team though, should not fear that the chemistry and execution the team has displayed over the past four games has come at an inopportune time. In fact, it is the perfect time for the Minutemen (3-5) to start clicking on all cylinders.

UMass has walked off the turf triumphant in three of its previous four contests, the lone loss coming last Saturday in a 10-9 overtime thriller against Brown.

The Minutemen are scoring at a clip of 10.5 goals per game in their last four contests, compared to their six tallies per contest in the team’s first four games. Goalkeeper D.J. Smith is at the top of his game in the cage, stopping a career-high 16 shots against the Bears and posting a 10.33 goals allowed average in his eight starts this season.

“There’s some frustration because of what happened last week and you feel that in the beginning of this week,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said. “I think our guys hopefully are confident. We certainly need some other guys that we’re counting on to be confident.”

The confidence and execution exuded by UMass in its recent stretch couldn’t have come at a better time. The Minutemen are gearing up for conference play in the Colonial Athletic Association, beginning with this Saturday’s home contest against Delaware at Garber Field.

UMass has had its struggles maintaining or exceeding its non-conference performance against conference opponents the previous few seasons. In the past three years, the Minutemen are 4-12 against CAA foes, including an 0-5 record last year. However, UMass won three games in 2015, topping No. 19 Fairfield 9-8 in the CAA semifinals before falling to Towson 9-8 in the CAA championship.

Among those the Minutemen have had their difficulties against, the Fightin’ Blue Hens have given UMass its fair share of problems. UMass is 0-3 in the previous three contests against Delaware, having lost by a combined 34-23 margin in the three match-ups. The Minutemen however have lost a pair of close games to the Fightin’ Blue Hens in the past two seasons, falling in tight 10-9 and 9-7 battles in 2016 and 2015, respectively.

“They’re an athletic team,” Cannella said. “They’ve been hungrier than us in these games. They’ve zoned us every year since we’ve been back in the CAA. Hopefully we can have some answers for that this year if they zone us. They’re well coached. They have tremendous athletes.”

“We just haven’t come to play the past couple of years in our conference, which has been tough to handle. But this is a new year and a different team,” Smith said. “I think we’ve proven that with a couple of the comebacks that we’ve had and sticking in there with some good teams. This is a team that can make some noise in our conference I think.”

Smith has not had much experience in the CAA nor against Delaware, but ironically, his lone appearance in conference came in the 2015 bout with the Fightin’ Blue Hens, where Smith made four saves and played the entire second half of the defeat.

“I mentioned to the guys on Monday that in my three years that I’ve been here we’ve never beat Delaware,” Smith said. “I take it really personally. It’s one of the goals that I have, not only to do really well in the CAA as a whole but Delaware ended my season as a freshman. I have a little bit of a personal vendetta against them and I want to go out there and take it to them.”

“Every game is as important as the next one or as the last one,” Cannella said. “You can’t say this game is more important than this game and start doing that to your guys if you want some stability.”

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

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