No. 19 UMass, No. 12 Harvard square off in huge matchup

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Maxwell Sparr/ Collegian

Always tough to beat at home, the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team is sometimes known as the ‘Garber Guerillas’ when playing in Amherst.

Considering how dominant UMass is when playing on the road against Harvard, maybe they should be referred to as the ‘Cambridge Chimpanzees’ over there.

‘I don’t know, man,’ said UMass coach Greg Cannella. ‘If we’re chimps we’re probably not going to play at a high level.’

Cannella laughed at the joke, but this run of dominance by the Minutemen over the Crimson in Cambridge can’t be funny to anyone affiliated with Harvard. And considering that the run goes back a while, that accounts for a lot of players, a lot of fans and three coaches.

‘I don’t know,’ answered Cannella, unsure how UMass has won 12 straight and 18 of the last 19 meetings at Harvard. ‘Every time you go down there, you got to throw that out. I’ll never mention that to our guys.’

Second-year Harvard coach John Tillman has never played the Minutemen in Cambridge. In fact, he’s 1-0 in his career against UMass ‘- an 8-5 victory last year ‘- but if he’s looking for some bulletin-board material, he needs only to show his team the scores of the past 12 home meetings.

Saturday afternoon’s game between the Minutemen and the Crimson isn’t about defending home-field advantage for the first time since 1983. It’s about two teams, No. 12 Harvard (2-0) and No. 19 UMass (2-1), battling for a marquee victory that will put one of these teams among the nation’s elite.

For that to be the Minutemen, Cannella insists it all starts with preparation.

‘John Wooden always said, ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.’ And Jack Emmer, who was a great lacrosse coach at Army, would say, ‘Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance,” Cannella recited after practice on Thursday.

‘And we talked about that with our guys this week ‘- we have to prepare the right way in order to go down there and play at a high level,’ he continued. ‘It’s not going to be easy to go to Harvard ‘- 2-0 record and No. 12 in the country ‘- in their first home game this year. If our guys are preparing the wrong way and think it’s going to be a cake walk, we’ll be in a lot of trouble.’

If No. 7 Duke thought it would be a cake walk against Harvard on Feb. 22, the Crimson proved otherwise. Harvard shut down a strong Blue Devils attack, taking its season opener, 9-6, in Durham, N.C. Harvard proved how good it was six days later, dominating Stony Brook in a 12-4 win.

Cannella has seen enough tape on Harvard that he doesn’t need any more convincing.

‘They have a lot of experience, great athleticism and unbelievable speed,’ he said. ‘They have such a strong and skilled group at attack with Dean Gibbons, Jeff Cohen and Kevin Vaughan. And [Jason] Duboe is probably one of the best midfielders in the country and Max Motschwiller is not far off of him.’

‘They have guys everywhere. And perhaps Harvard’s strength is that they play with a great level of intensity every second they’re out on the field. And that impresses the hell out of me and scares the hell out of me too.’

UMass had trouble offensively last year against Harvard and goalkeeper Joe Pike. The Minutemen had a 2-1 lead at halftime, but the Crimson scored six straight goals to open the second half en route to a decisive victory.

This year’s Minutemen have had no such problems this season on offense. UMass torched Yale in its game last Saturday, scoring a season-high 18 goals. That came after a 10-goal effort against then- No. 13 Hofstra in a 1-goal loss and 15 tallies in the season-opening win over Sacred Heart.

UMass scored 10 or more goals only once last season. With star Jim Connolly back on the Minutemen, that isn’t likely to happen again.

Harvard is just hoping something else doesn’t happen again.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]