Coach Canella refuses to look past the talent of Georgetown

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Don’t call Greg Cannella crazy.

Because no matter how disappointing Georgetown has been this season ‘- especially by its high-standards ‘- the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse coach refuses to let his team overlook the talented, yet scuffling Hoyas.

‘You can’t overlook Georgetown ever,’ Greg Canella said before practice Wednesday. ‘I think Georgetown brings obviously a bunch of NCAA Tournaments, a Final Four [in 1999] and a stature that if you overlook them, you’re nuts.’

Considering the recent dominance by Georgetown over UMass and the Eastern College Athletic Conference over the last five years, the 15-year coach of the Minutemen knows better.

‘They are an excellent program, well-coached and very aggressive. They play lacrosse like it should be played,’ Cannella said. ‘Their style allows their athletes to play, gives them an opportunity to showcase their talents.’

After a preseason ranking in the Top 8 in both the media and coaches poll, Georgetown lost four of its first six games to start the season to fall well outside of the Top 20. But the Hoyas are lurking now ‘- one spot out of the poll ‘- after recent wins over No. 17 Harvard, Mount St. Mary’s and Fairfield.

When asked what’s enabled Georgetown to have a quick turnaround this season, Cannella had a simple answer.

‘They’re good,’ he said bluntly.

‘I think when you’re Georgetown teams gun for you. It’s a top game of the year for a lot of teams,’ he continued. ‘That’s not an easy thing to protect against and obviously they’ve been nicked a couple times this year, but they’re as good as anyone we’ll play for sure.’

It’s something that UMass (7-3, 4-0 ECAC) has also had to deal with. The Minutemen, ranked No. 12 in the media poll, look strikingly similar to the 2006 team that reached the NCAA National Championship Game. UMass has become a big game for other teams, as well.

Saturday’s Senior Day matchup at Garber Field with the Hoyas (5-6, 1-3 ECAC) begins a crucial end-of-the-year stretch for the Minutemen ‘- who have three conference games and its annual clash with Syracuse (No. 3 in the nation) on April 25 still on the schedule.

With the way goalkeeper Doc Schneider and the rest of UMass has played against tough competition this season, the Minutemen seem ready for the difficult stretch ahead.

‘There’s a different level of preparation, for sure. And a different level of sense of urgency this season,’ Cannella said. ‘Particularly the seniors ‘- guys like Doc, Joe Reale, Evan Blum, Rory [Pedrick], Jimmy [Connolly], Tim [Balise], Brennan Mack and Dennis Lynch. All the seniors and I think the rest of the team is aware of that and those guys have done a good job of leading this group this year.’

It’s a group that is undefeated in the ECAC, featuring a dynamic duo at attack with Connolly (26 goals) and Balise (21) and one of the premier goalkeepers in the country with Schneider ‘- who is backed up on defense by All-American candidate Diogo Godoi and Brennan Mack.

UMass’ senior class has had a lot of success. And they had it early, reaching the NCAA title game in 2006. But that success hasn’t translated against Georgetown, which has won three straight and four of the last five meetings.

‘They’ve beaten the heck out of us over the last three years. It hasn’t been much of a rivalry,’ Cannella said. ‘We play a similar style to them. It’s sort of a natural rivalry because of that.

‘We’ve only played nine games, they’ve won six. So I don’t know if it’s a huge rivalry or not. But within the conference, this game has meant a lot for sure,’ he added.

If UMass can snap the losing streak to the Hoyas, the Minutemen would need just one win in its final two conference games (at Fairfield on April 21; at Rutgers on May 2) to clinch the ECAC Championship and the automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament.

To do it, UMass will have to do its best to contain the high-powered Hoyas offense, led by Andrew Brancaccio and Ricky Mirabito who have each scored 19 goals. With Scott Kocis (12 goals) and Craig Dowd (17 assists, 9 goals) also making plays, there’s a lot for Schneider to prepare for.

Looking at last year’s game film would be a good start. Georgetown launched an amazing 61 shots in the 12-8 victory. Even a then-career high 20 saves from Schneider wasn’t enough in the losing e
ffort.

Schneider, who currently leads the nation in save percentage (65.3), always seems to step up against the best teams. But he’s going to need the ECAC’s highest-scoring offense (10.3 goals per game) to continue its strong play.

Connolly and Balise will need a little help from some of the younger players on the team, including Art Kell (9 goals) and Ryan Marcus (7).

‘They always are [the key],’ Cannella said of the production from the underclassmen. ‘We’ve been imploring those guys that we need them and need them to be better. Whenever those guys get in there we need them to be better and help our seniors for sure.’

If Connolly and Balise can get that help, UMass has its best chance to end its struggles against Georgetown and be one stop closer to locking up its first ECAC title since 2005.

Notes

Georgetown and UMass have won seven of the last eight ECAC Championships. Loyola, which took the title last season, is the only other team to win one since 2000.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]