National stage, neutral site for Minutemen in Classic

By David Brinch

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The Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team will do three things for the first time this season when they take on No. 13 Georgetown Saturday afternoon.

The No. 16 Minutemen will compete at a neutral site, compete in their first-ever Classic, and will play on national television all in one contest.

UMass will play the Hoyas at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., home of the 2010 ESPNU Warrior Classic.

The first game of the Classic will be between No. 18 Denver and No. 17 Fairfield beginning at 11 a.m., followed by the Minutemen and Hoyas at 1:30 p.m.

“I think if we were playing out in the parking lot, I would be excited,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said. “You’re hoping for nice weather, a good product out there in Georgetown, UMass, Fairfield and Denver, and you hope there’s a good crowd, and I think there should be.”

The field is home to the University of Connecticut’s football team, holds more than 40,000 people, and is the biggest stage the Minutemen have played on since the 2006 national championship game, when the team lost to the University of Virginia, 15-7, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

UMass has not played at a neutral site so far this season, hosting six games at Garber Field and playing on the road in five games, but could have a large fan showing, with Amherst located just over an hour from Hartford.

The creation of the classic was announced back in January, with a combination effort from ESPN Regional Television Inc. and Warrior Lacrosse, a prominent lacrosse equipment manufacturer, attempting to reach larger audiences while spreading the growing sport of lacrosse.

Along with the Warrior Classic, other Division I programs have competed in such events held earlier this year, such as the New England Classic back on April 3, which was held at Gillette Stadium. Four Ivy League teams, No. 8 Cornell, Dartmouth, No. 6 Princeton, and Brown played in a double-header, while the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic was the first such event played this season, as No. 5 Duke, No. 4 Maryland, the Towson Tigers and No. 19 John’s Hopkins all took part in the tournament in Baltimore, Md. on March 6.

The new Meadowlands Stadium, home of the New York Giants, hosted the Konica Minolta Big City Classic, featuring Delaware, No. 14 Hofstra, No. 3 North Carolina, the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers, Towson, and No. 1 Syracuse on April 10.

This past weekend in Baltimore, the Smartlink Day of Rivals took place, with a No. 20 Army-Navy match-up followed by Maryland against the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays.

While the Warrior Classic will be the final regular season event for Division I lacrosse this year, the purpose of these invitationals has been to increase the exposure of lacrosse while putting it on a main sports stage, which has worked.

Every classic, including the Warrior Classic, will be nationally televised on ESPNU, and has the potential to be an annual event for years to come.   

The Minutemen are 2-1 against teams which have competed in this year’s classics, including an 11-10 victory over the Brown Bears and 11-9 win over the Hofstra Pride.

For Cannella and his team, they want the attention, but want to play like it is any other game, following back-to-back losses to Towson and the Blue Hens.

“I think the exposure is great, [but] we’re not used to it, playing on national television, playing on the big stage, so we hope the guys can handle that, and play it like it’s any other game,” Cannella said.

Tickets for the Warrior Classic are $15 for adults and $9 for children and senior citizens. The event will open at 8 a.m. Saturday for the ESPNU Lacrosse Tour and Warrior FanFest, followed by the games.

David Brinch can be reached at [email protected]