Tough schedule on the horizon for Minutemen

By Jay Asser

If there was ever a difficult time to face struggles this season, the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team is in the midst of it. The No. 17 Minutemen have lost their last two contests and are in the middle of a schedule in which they have a three-game road trip and get into the meat of conference play.

The reason for UMass’ struggles lately has been the inconsistency of the offense, which has scored in double-digits once in the past five games.

“Honestly I think it’s just the ability to go out there and play and not think about it too much,” said UMass coach Greg Cannella. “I think for a lot of guys it’s weighed heavy in the back of their heads, when they have the opportunity to score they’re not just going out there and reacting … The only thing we’re struggling with is putting the ball in the back of the net.”

Despite outshooting Penn State, 38-27, in a March 19 meeting, the Minutemen suffered an 8-7 loss, including going scoreless in the second quarter. Nevertheless, UMass ranks second in the Colonial Athletic Association with 10.00 goals per game, behind Drexel’s average of 11.11.

Cannella also expressed that the recent offensive problems have added extra pressure to the defense, which he considers to be playing well and keeping the team in contention during games.

Dangerous stretch

Compounded with the lackluster play for the Minutemen is arguably the toughest and most significant stretch of their regular season schedule.

After playing three of its first four games this year at Garber Field, UMass needs to play six of its final nine contests on the road, where it has a 2-2 record so far.

“It’s a difficult part of the year especially when you lose,” said Cannella. “When you win, everybody’s okay, but when you lose a couple of games and now you’ve got to go back on the road, it’s a long trip.”

The upcoming matchup with Saint Joseph’s on Saturday will mark the first of five-straight conference games. In their only meeting with a CAA opponent this season, the Minutemen fell to the Nittany Lions.

Cannella understands that now, more so than any other part of the season, is a critical time for his team and would be an opportune period to get back on track.

“This is your opportunity, this is your access, that’s why you get involved with leagues and league championships if that may be,” said Cannella. “That’s why you do it, to get access to the NCAA’s and obviously it’s going to be very important. This is a pretty important time for every league and every team in our league.”

Jump to the CAA

UMass’ matchup with SJU on Saturday will be the first ever men’s lacrosse history. That’s because the Hawks are new to the CAA after making a jump from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Association this year.

So far, Saint Joseph’s has had trouble making a seamless transition, losing both of its CAA games and holding an 0-7 overall record. The Hawks, however, didn’t fare much better last season, going 3-15 and not earning a victory until April 10 in their 11th game of the year.

Nevertheless, Cannella, who knows about transition of changing conference after the Minutemen joined the CAA in 2010, realizes that the Hawks are in an adjustment period.

“I think it’s a much tougher conference for them,” said Cannella. “Their non-league schedule was fairly difficult. So not only is their non-schedule tough, but their in-league [schedule] is a lot different than the MAAC.”

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected]