Minutemen set to play first ever CAA conference game

By David Brinch

Despite the outcome, the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team will turn a page in its history Saturday afternoon, when they host Hofstra at Garber Field at 1 p.m.

The No. 18 Minutemen (5-2) will take on the No. 6 Pride (4-1), as UMass begins its conference schedule as a new member of the Colonial Athletic Association.

“Anytime you play a team in the top 10, it’s a real challenge and this is no different,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said. “If you’re fortunate enough to beat those guys it’s a real confidence booster.”

The Minutemen were part of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference last season, a league in which they won the conference championship with a 6-1 record while making their 18th appearance in the NCAA tournament.

The Pride fell in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Cornell last season, and finished with an 11-4 record and a perfect 6-0 record in the CAA.

Both teams were picked to finish No. 1 and No. 2 in the CAA this season in the preseason coaches’ poll.

UMass finishes its non-conference schedule at 5-2, including a huge win over No. 15 Brown on Tuesday, while scoring a combined 99 goals in its first seven games, the best offensive start since the 2003 season.

“I thought we set [our non-conference schedule] up pretty well, but now you’re going to have to do some traveling within the league,” Cannella said. “We play two home games and three away games in our conference, so that will be a challenge as well.”

UMass will take on Penn State, Delaware and No. 13 Drexel on the road and host Towson, along with the Pride.

The No. 20 Minutemen fell to the No. 13 Pride last season on Long Island, 11-10, after building a four-goal halftime lead, but were outscored 8-3 in the second half.

“That was a disappointing loss,” Cannella said. “I can remember how the guys felt, the entire team felt. You don’t like those feelings. If that motivates you as an individual, you ask your guys how that felt. You hope that changes things for the guys that were involved in it last year.”

UMass leads the all-time series 18-16, with the teams competing against one another since the 1992 season, as well as four meetings in the NCAA tournament.

Both teams are two of the top scoring teams in the country, with the Minutemen ranking fifth in the nation with 14.1 goals per game, while the Pride average 14.0 goals per game for sixth.

Sophomore attackman Art Kell (18 goals, 11 assists) leads the team, and is tied for 15th in the country in points per game (4.1).

“Offensively, we’re scoring right around the same amount, so I think we both can score,” Cannella said. “I think their MVP is Steven DiNapoli. He’ll do everything for you. He’s on the wing, he plays defense and you’ll notice him at the game on Saturday running up and down the field, being a huge threat.”

DiNapoli has two goals and two assists this year for the Pride, while Jamie Lincoln (17 goals) and Stephen Bentz (13 goals) will look to cool off Minutemen goalkeeper Tim McCormack.

McCormack registered a career-high 17 saves against the Bears on Tuesday, including 10 in the second half and will look to keep the momentum going with a stoic defense in front of the cage.

UMass’ defensive unit is first in the nation in caused turnovers (12.2 per game), and twelfth in ground balls (34.7 per game).

David Brinch can be reached at [email protected]