UMass men’s lacrosse prepares for pivotal match with Fairfield
Massachusetts men’s lacrosse coach Greg Cannella has been a model of consistency for the past 23 seasons at the helm of the Minutemen.
The Colonial Athletic Association Coach of the Year in 2012 and five-time conference champion, Cannella has preached to his coaches and players that no one regular season game is more important than the last or the next.
When UMass (4-6, 1-1 CAA) hosts Fairfield this Saturday, a team that has bested the Minutemen in their last three regular season meetings but has struggled of late losing its last three contests, Cannella’s message will be just the same.
“I think a win every week means a lot in the conference because you only get to play five games,” he said. “I think every conference game is crucial.”
The Stags (3-8, 0-2 CAA) come to Garber Field having lost six of their last seven, including three straight against Villanova, No. 6 Hofstra and Drexel. The Minutemen have split their first two conference games with a victory over Delaware and a loss at Towson, and a triumph Saturday would put UMass in a coveted position with a record over .500 in the CAA.
Fairfield has won all but two conference games over the last two seasons. A formidable foe that has given the Minutemen problems in the past appears to be ripe for the picking.
But the team has its share of talented players on both sides of the ball. Colin Burke (20 goals, 10 assists), Dylan Beckwith (11 goals, 11 assists), Travis Ford (17 goals) and Joe Rodrigues (11 goals) are a few of the stars offensively for the Stags that figure to give UMass problems come Saturday.
“It’s hard to prepare your guys for exactly what you’re going to get,” Cannella said. “Offensively, they’re really skilled. They’re well coached on offense there as well. They do a good job of moving the ball well and creating shots for each other.”
One player who has taken the advice of his coaches in his approach has been sophomore Tyler Bogart, who hopes to continue to ride his stretch of hot play into the weekend.
Bogart is approaching this game as Cannella would hope, not more or less important than the last one.
“For any game we play, a win is huge,” Bogart said. “We just look for the next game, the next day and not focus on what’s after that. We have a very good opportunity right now, probably the best we’ve had in years. Now’s the time for other people to really step up.”
After not registering a point or starting UMass’ season opening loss against Army, Bogart took the time after the game to approach both Cannella and assistant coach Doc Schneider. His message was a simple one: He was ready to take the next step and improve his play.
“The switch flipped for him after Army,” Cannella said. “In the preseason, he was just OK. He wasn’t starting and wasn’t contributing a ton. After the Army game he came in and said to coach Schneider and myself, ‘Listen. I got it.’ He came out and he brought a ton of energy to the team and in practice each week moving forward from there and obviously it shows on the game field on Saturdays.”
Since vowing to get better on the practice and game field, Bogart has tallied points in eight of the team’s past nine games and has surged to the team lead in goals with 20 on the season. But more than anything else, it’s been the things that don’t appear on the stat sheet that have stood out.
“He’s shooting the ball well, but I think it’s more intangibles than anything,” Cannella said. “He’s had the talent. He was a good player last year for us. He shoots the ball well. He’s good right around the cage inside and he’s fearless. That’s an intangible. He’s not afraid of anything. He puts himself in those spots to be successful. “It’s really his intensity that he carries in practice and in the games.”
“It’s all a mental thing to me,” Bogart said. “Life is mental. If you’re fearless in anything you do, nothing is going to hold you back. Nothing’s going to stop you. In this game at this level, we play the best of the best. If you’re going out there afraid to take it to the net, afraid to score – you have to put the team on your back sometimes. You have to go to the net and not be afraid of anyone or anything.”
The Newton attackman has registered multi-goal games in seven of the Minutemen’s last nine games, including a pair of four-goal efforts in wins against Yale and UMass Lowell. His offense has been a critical reason for UMass’ success in invoking themselves into the heat of a conference championship chase.
“I totally just changed how I was thinking,” Bogart said. “I changed my attitude. That was the biggest thing. This is a grind what we do – all year non-stop. This is no joke. I try to bring intensity and be consistent in every practice. I try to show my leadership with my actions and less words.”
Kyle DaLuz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Kyle_DaLuz.