Minutemen fall short in resurgence season

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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PRINCETON, N.J. – The origin of Jonathan David Schneider’s nickname, ‘Doc,’ still remains a mystery. But according to Princeton men’s lacrosse coach Bill Tierney, one thing is quite clear: the Massachusetts goalkeeper is the best in the country.

The senior stopper just won’t be able to prove it anymore.

The comeback season for UMass ended Sunday night, as the Minutemen fell to the fourth-seeded Tigers, 10-7, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Class of 1952 Stadium in Princeton, N.J.

Schneider made 13 saves for the Minutemen, who couldn’t quite come back from a 6-1 halftime deficit. That didn’t stop Tierney from praising the UMass stopper.

‘Doc, that guy, if he’s not the best goalie in the country than maybe our guy [Tyler Fiorito] is,’ Tierney said. ‘It’s tough scoring on that guy. So to get double figures on him and to be up 6-1 at the half, we really felt good about that.’

Led by the career-high five goals from Mark Kovler, the Tigers (13-2) ended UMass’ streak of five consecutive NCAA first-round victories ‘- dating back to a 1997 loss also to Princeton.

The Minutemen dominated play in the third quarter and cut the lead to three multiple times in the second half, but Kovler continually answered back with timely goals.

The 2009 season was a remarkable turnaround for UMass (9-6), a program that went a combined 12-16 over the previous two seasons after a 2006 national runner-up finish. The Minutemen rebounded this year with an Eastern College Athletic Conference championship and NCAA berth just 15 months after an off-campus incident resulted in the removal of eight players from the program.

All of what UMass accomplished after a tumultuous 2008 season was not lost on Cannella or his seniors.

‘I give the credit to the seniors for bringing us back to the spot we’re here today. They put a lot into [this team] to get the guys connected and looking out for each other. They made sure guys went to class and behaved off the field.

‘They did such an awesome job for that and I thank them for that.’

Schneider, who entered the game ranked second in the NCAA in save percentage, wouldn’t reveal how he got his nickname but also reflected on what the senior class accomplished.

‘It’s good now that I don’t have to hear about freshman year anymore. Our main goal was to get back to this spot ‘- where we thought this program should be,’ Schneider said. ‘It’s been great and we definitely have something that we built here and we want the underclassmen to kind of take that to the future.’

After a strong first 10 minutes of the third quarter, when the Minutemen cut the lead to 8-5, a future in the second round against fifth-seeded Cornell seemed like a distinct possibility. Fiorito’s hot start went away, star senior Jim Connolly scored twice and Schneider and the UMass defense held ground.

But Kovler was simply too much.

His late third-quarter goal once again extended the lead to four and stopped most of the momentum the Minutemen had gained. What was left of it vanished quickly in the fourth, as UMass served four penalties in the opening 5 minutes, 14 seconds of the final period to allow Princeton to dominate possession and run the clock.

‘It kind of took the wind out of our sails when we had a lot of momentum,’ Cannella said. ‘Some of those were bad fouls, but they were effort fouls, so you can’t really knock these guys. They were trying their hardest and make a play [to get back into the game].’

Perhaps the most costly UMass penalty came in the second period. After Schneider made a sprawling save on a Kovler shot, the Minuteman goalkeeper fell backwards as the ball flew into the air. While lying on his back, Schneider reached up and swatted the ball away again, but the officials ruled that it crossed the line for the goal and a 5-1 lead.

Schneider argued and was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, sending him off the field and backup Mael Walkowiak into the game. UMass successfully killed the penalty, but before Schneider could come back into the game, Kovler struck again with 35 seconds remaining in the half to increase the lead.

Despite a 19-5 edge in groundballs in the third quarter, UMass only outscored th
e Tigers by one goal. The Minutemen successfully killed off four penalties in the fourth quarter but with the Tigers dominating possession it was already too late.

Connolly finished with four goals to end his senior season with a team-high 39, but was the only member of the UMass offense that could get anything going. Tim Balise, Evan Blum and Bobby Hayes all scored one against Fiorito, who made 12 saves.

Rich Sgalardi added a hat trick for Princeton, who also got one each from Scott MacKenzie and Tommy Davis.

Game notes

UMass was 1-for-1 on the man-advantage, while Princeton was 2-for-8. ‘hellip; The Minutemen, which has struggled at times on the face-off, won 11 of the 18 draws. ‘hellip; Princeton outshot UMass 36-35. ‘hellip; Evan Blum had two assists. Defender Stephen Zorkers had one.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]