Mended hearts: Men’s lacrosse begins season with win, clean slate

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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James Weliver/Collegian

Following a season full of turmoil and losses, the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team felt they had a lot to prove entering the 2009 season.

Saturday’s season-opening 15-6 thrashing of Sacred Heart by UMass proved not only that the Minutemen have put last year’s mess behind them, but that the success of year’s past appears to be part of their immediate future.

‘We had a lot to prove coming out and we worked our butts off for these past few weeks. That was a big game for us ‘- everyone was excited to play and we played well,’ said UMass senior midfielder Rory Pedrick, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.

Pedrick was one of five UMass players to score multiple goals in Saturday’s 15-goal effort at Garber Field, the highest-scoring output the Minutemen have produced in their last 18 games dating back to the 2007 season. Pedrick wasn’t the only Minuteman to make a strong comeback effort, as Ryan Marcus (two goals) and Jim Connolly (one) ‘- who were each suspended for the 2008 season ‘- made strong contributions in a well-balanced victory.

‘It was great; you see how much depth we have when all these guys are scoring,’ Pedrick said. ‘We had multiple freshmen playing [substantial minutes], and they’re playing composed and that’s important because they have to be.’

The rest of the Minutemen (1-0) also stayed composed at a crucial time early in the second half. A 7-3 halftime lead disappeared quickly in the third quarter, as two Sacred Heart goals in the first three minutes cut the deficit in half.

But goalkeeper Doc Schneider (eight saves) and UMass responded quickly and often, absolutely dominating play and outscoring the Pioneers 5-0 for the remainder of the period to regain control.

‘We reacted well, we didn’t panic,’ UMass coach Greg Cannella said about the brief letdown at the beginning of the second half. ‘We were not fazed by anything that happened in the game and that’s a good sign and that’s the guys following the leadership of the Docs and the [Joe] Reales ‘- they’re going to continue to play regardless of what the situation is.’

Schneider also attributes that focus to experience.

‘I guess that’s where being a senior kicks in ‘- I can’t believe I’m saying that,’ Schneider said in disbelief that this is his final season at UMass. ‘I’ve experienced every situation. Whatever it is, [the group of seniors] kind of know how to respond to it. And the offense did an unbelievable job of putting any pressure off of us.’

The Minutemen applied pressure early to Sacred Heart. Forty-nine seconds into the contest, Pioneer goalkeeper Tom Trgo’s stick broke in half ‘- foreshadowing the kind of day he had in net as the Minutemen peppered 51 shots in the game. Trgo stopped seven shots, but allowed seven goals. Reserve goalkeeper Zack Frank didn’t fare any better in the second half ‘- allowing eight goals while making eight saves.

Senior captain attack Tim Balise led the offensive assault for UMass, scoring three goals and assisting on two others. Bobby Hayes, Evan Blum, Pedrick and Marcus all scored two goals. Four others, including Connolly and Reale, scored once.

Sacred Heart’s only lead in the game was 1-0. UMass scored the next two goals and finished the first quarter tied. The Minutemen pulled away and took the lead for good on a Pedrick goal that gave UMass a 4-3 lead with 9 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first half. The Minutemen scored the next three goals to take the 7-3 halftime lead.

Led by defenseman Diogo Godoi and Schneider in goal, UMass completely shut down the Pioneers in the second half ‘- controlling the pace of play and dominating the battle in limiting turnovers, picking up ground balls and clearing the zone.

‘I thought the difference in the game was our ability in the second and third quarters to get more ground balls than them,’ Cannella said. ‘They were beating us to them early in the game and slowed it down on us. But when we got them we sped it up in our zone and created more shots ‘- and they went in ‘- so it enabled us to relax a little bit.’

The Minutemen won’t have much time to relax now, especially with a road matchup with No. 14 Hofstra next on the schedule.

Game notes

The Minutemen finished the 2008 season with a 5-9 record ‘hellip; UMass was 2-for-5 on the man-up, while shutting down Sacred Heart all five times when a man-down ‘hellip; In last year’s meeting, the Pioneers won 9-7. UMass is now 6-1 all time against Sacred Heart ‘hellip; Balise led the Minutemen last season in goals with 33 ‘hellip; Sacred Heart had more turnovers (24) than shots taken (22).

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]