Minutemen look to end skid against Hawks Saturday

By Herb Scribner

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The No. 17 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team could catch a break from its tough schedule, as it takes on a winless Saint Joseph’s team on Saturday afternoon, in UMass’ second Colonial Athletic Association game of the season.

The Minutemen (5-3, 0-1 CAA) enter the home of the Hawks (0-7, 0-2 CAA) having lost three of their last four contests, which were all closely-contested battles that crumbled for the Maroon and White at the end.

 Despite SJU’s winless start of the season, UMass coach Greg Cannella doesn’t look at the team any differently than any other opponent.

“This time you only have a couple of days [to practice],” said Cannella. “You don’t have that much time, so I don’t think it matters who you play. It’s the opportunity to get back out there as a team and try and prove yourself.”

Heading into the SJU game, Cannella and the rest of the Minutemen are taking note of the slow style the Hawks have displayed so far this season. Along with playing at a slower pace, SJU has also hustled on the defensive end by allowing no more than 10 goals in four contests this season.

“They’re an athletic team – an aggressive team,” said Cannella. “They play a certain style, a slow-down style, so we have to be aware of that for sure. Most of their experience is on the defensive side, it’s a very young team.”

Though the Hawks are youthful, the defense holds veteran seniors that will look to halt the Minutemen offense, including Rob Saraceni, Shawn Mowry, Pat Harner and Keith Belson.

“Defensively is where they have most of their critical mass,” said Cannella. “They’ve held teams down defensively – teams that on paper are better than us on offense.”

While the contest might give the Minutemen a break after taking on top-ranked teams such as No. 20 and No. 9 Army, they will have to be mindful of sophomore Kyle Williams, who leads the Hawks with 11 goals on the season.

“He presents match-up problems for you [because] he’s a big and athletic kid,” said Cannella. “It’s going to be in his hands a bunch, and he’s going to be in different spots because of his invert game.”

Williams helps an ailing Hawks offense that has been outscored 23-7 in games in the first quarter alone, which is a period that the Minutemen have struggled in earlier games this season.

 The sophomore attackman doesn’t stand alone on the offensive side of the ball, as Scott Cullinan, son of SJU coach Pat Cullinan, and Kyle Mahoney both have five goals and one assist on the year – good for six points each.

With Williams, Mahoney and Cullinan running the offense side, and the defense being equally formidable, the midfield also earned a lot of praise from Cannella. Ian Correia, Steve Dunn and Trevor Dougherty were picked by Cannella to work the midfield for the Hawks.

“[They are] players that are young that are trying to find their way to play a very difficult schedule,” said Cannella. “They’ll be fired up for us and obviously coming off of a loss, we’re going to have to be ready.”

Additionally, this contest will be the first time that SJU and UMass clash in CAA play, as the Hawks joined the conference this season, a year after the Minutemen’s own move to the conference.

 In their final year of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play, the Hawks showed similar signs of  struggle, going 3-12 in 2010 with the three wins coming in conference play.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]