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UMass men’s lacrosse to clinch CAA tournament berth with win over No. 10 Hofstra

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

After missing out on the Colonial Athletic Association conference tournament last season, the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team has a chance to extend its season and earn a spot in the tournament this year with a win in one of its final two games of the season.

Just don’t tell that to anybody on the team.

UMass (5-6, 2-1 CAA) has maintained a focus solely on its upcoming opponent all season, and that remains true this week as the Minutemen prepare to travel to No. 10 Hofstra (10-1, 2-1 CAA) Saturday for the penultimate game of the regular season.

“We take it week-by-week so we’re not even thinking about the tournament yet,” UMass senior goalkeeper D.J. Smith said. “Hofstra’s the next game, it’s the biggest game of the year because it’s the next game. That’s what’s on our mind right now, we’re not even worried about CAAs, in my mind at least.”

The Pride entered last weekend undefeated before Drexel overcame a 9-2 halftime deficit to hand Hofstra its first loss of the season. The Minutemen won’t be thinking about that, either.

“I don’t think it makes a difference,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said. “I think you look at each game and each week as a separate entity from whatever else happens in the season.”

The Minutemen will be tasked with defending against a very strong Pride offense that averages a CAA-leading 11.55 goals per game.

“Offensively, they’re very good,” Cannella said. “They can put out six guys that can score it or feed it at once. They’re efficient in shooting. They have one of the best seniors in the country and one of the best freshmen in the country on attack, so they’re a solid team.”

Cannella referenced the play of senior Josh Byrne and freshman Ryan Tierney as being crucial to Hofstra’s attack. Byrne leads the CAA in goals per game (2.73), assists per game (1.91) and points per game (4.64) per game—more than one full point over the second-ranked player in the conference.

“Those are the two guys,” Cannella said. “Byrne is a Canadian sharpshooter, but he’s increased his assist total this year. He’s done a good job spreading the ball to other people.”

Tierney, the son of Pride coach Seth Tierney, appears set to win the CAA Rookie of the Year award, leading all freshmen in goals (2.27) and assists (1.18) per game.

“He’s been playing, he’s been watching and now he gets his chance to compete at this level, and he’s doing a heck of a job,” Cannella said. “He’s a tough kid, fearless, shoots the ball well, feeds the ball—he does it all.”

Smith said sticking to the team’s game plan will be key in slowing down Hofstra’s high-powered attack.

“They like to feed the back pipes, they like to go hard for themselves,” Smith said. “We just have to play really good one-on-one defense and stick to our matchups.”

On the other side of the field, UMass will have its hands full with Pride goalkeeper Jack Concannon.

Selected to the Face-Off Yearbook Preseason All-America third team and the preseason All-CAA first team before the season, Concannon has lived up to the hype, posting the top save percentage (.589) and the second-lowest goals against average (8.37) in the CAA this season.

“Solid goalie, good size, athletic, gets the ball out, saves the ball, it’s going to be tough,” Cannella said.

Concannon’s play in the cage is a big part of why Hofstra boasts the second-lowest goals against total in the CAA, allowing 92 goals over 11 games (8.36 per game).

Another angle to look out for is the Pride’s home-field advantage. UMass has played better at home than on the road this season, compiling a 3-2 record in Amherst compared to 2-4 away from Garber Field.

Meanwhile Hofstra has generated the largest attendance numbers of any team in the CAA this year, averaging 1,479 people at each home game this season.

Opening faceoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Hofstra’s James M. Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, New York.

 Jamie Cushman can be reached at jrcushman@umass.edu, and followed on Twitter @Jamie__Cushman.

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