Minutemen comfortable away from home

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Maxwell Sparr/Collegian

Playing on the road in the NCAA Tournament against a higher-seeded team doesn’t exactly seem advantageous. But could it be for the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team at Princeton on Sunday?

The Minutemen certainly seem to think so.

‘The underdog factor is the reason why we’re all here. None of us were really highly recruited kids, we play to prove something every time we’re out there ‘- coach [Greg] Cannella always harps on that,’ senior goalkeeper Doc Schneider said.

‘We’re going to a hostile environment against a team with one of the best lacrosse traditions in the country,’ he added. ‘There’s not much of a bigger underdog role you could ask for so we’re excited about it.’

As for playing away from the comforts of Garber Field and against a team that is undefeated at home, Cannella thinks that could be a good thing for his team.

‘We’re probably better off, in my opinion, going on the road,’ Cannella said. ‘You get away from campus here, we’re able to probably keep our focus a little bit better ‘- obviously it’s a nice time of year here on campus and the campus comes alive ‘- there’s a lot going on.’

The Minutemen (9-5, 6-1 Eastern College Athletic Conference) finished the regular season with a 5-2 record on the road, which was better than their 4-3 mark in Amherst. UMass’ most important win of the season came at Loyola on March 21, a victory that gave the Minutemen the tiebreaker for the ECAC championship and the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers topped Brown (ranked No. 12 in the nation), Dartmouth, Harvard (No. 19), Syracuse (No. 1), Albany, Manhattan and Canisius at home this season without a loss. They also defeated No. 7 Johns Hopkins and No. 9 UMBC on the road.

Mission statement

As a freshman goalkeeper in 2006, Schneider helped lead the Minutemen to the national championship game. But the success didn’t carry over in either 2007 or 2008, when UMass went a combined 12-16 without a postseason appearance.

‘You work your tail off and sophomore year we had a bunch of one-goal losses and last year everything happened ‘hellip; ‘ Schneider said. ‘We wanted to put the program back to where we thought it belongs,’

But just because the Minutemen are back, doesn’t mean they are satisfied.

‘We wanted to make the tournament ‘- we strived for that ‘- but we’re going down there to win,’ Schneider said.

No matter how his team does against Princeton, Cannella is proud of what his team has achieved just 15 months after an off-campus incident resulted in the dismissal of eight players before the 2008 season started.

‘I feel good that they were able to accomplish one of the goals that they set forth this year, and that’s to bring the program back,’ Canella said. ‘And whether we won or not [Saturday against Rutgers], I thought they accomplished that goal a long time ago.

‘But we did win and now we got to move on,’ he said.

According to the UMass coach, the first step in doing that is making sure his team wants more.

‘[The season is already a success], but I hate to say [it] ‘- you don’t want to tell them that either,’ Cannella said. ‘You really want to focus on the game coming up. A lot of people will be patting the guys on the back this week and we got to make sure that we knock it off.’

Stat central

Considering UMass was the only team from the ECAC to make the NCAA Tournament, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that it had the top two goal scorers (Jim Connolly and Tim Balise) and the top-ranked goalkeeper (Schneider) in the conference.

Connolly led the ECAC in goals with 35 and Balise tied for second with Loyola’s Cooper MacDonnell with 30. Schneider’s goals-against average (7.31) easily paced the conference and his .658 save percentage ranked second in the country behind Notre Dame’s Scott Rodgers (.663).

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]