Friday night’s affair with Delaware will pit the No. 20 Massachusetts men’s
lacrosse team against a similar Colonial Athletic Association squad under the lights at Garber Field.
The Minutemen (8-4, 3-2 CAA) will host the Blue Hens (9-5, 4-1 CAA) in the final contest of the regular season for both sides. UMass, which has already qualified for the CAA tournament, will look to use this game to raise its position in the postseason table as the playoffs near.
The highest UMass can finish is in second place, getting help with a win over the Blue Hens and a victory from Penn State over Hofstra on Saturday. However, the Minutemen would have to outscore Delaware by 11 goals or score 23 more goals than the Pride to earn the two seed.
A loss to Blue Hens and victories by Hofstra or PSU would give the Minutemen the fourth seed.
“We have to just focus on Delaware and we’ll move on from there,” said UMass coach Greg Cannella. “We’re in, but we have to focus on this game tomorrow night. It’s a big game for us and obviously a big game for them. We’ve both come off of pretty good butt-kicking’s. Both teams will want to get back on track before we start the CAA tournament.”
The Blue Hens enter Garber Field with a group of double-digit goal scorers in Eric Smith (19), Grant Kaleikau (12), Sean Finegan (17), Nick Elsmo (13), Nick Diachenko (14) and John Mills (11). These offensive players tend to work off of the transition game, something that Cannella is well aware of.
“It’s tough,” said Cannella. “Those guys are good. We’re going try to do our best to limit those guys. They’re particularly dangerous in transition. Again, this is another team that can put six guys out there that can really bring it at once so it’s going be tough.”
More than just a goal scorer, Kaleikau has been dishing out top assists for the Blue Hens throughout the season as he currently sits in second place in the CAA jn assists per game with 1.67 (one spot above UMass sophomore Will Manny).
“He’s a good player,” said Cannella. “[He’s] quick, [and] was dangerous last year against us, very quick, will handle the ball behind [the net], he can score it, [and] he can feed it. We’re going have to clamp down on him and do our best. Guys like that and teams like this, you plan on limiting them. You can’t think you’re going stop them.”
In last season’s game between the two sides, Kaleikau dished out two assists in the Blue Hens’ 9-6 victory. Although Kaleikau also lost the ball four times off of turnovers, the Blue Hens caused more turnovers than the Maroon and White (13-6).
This season, the two sides are close in caused turnover standings, as the Blue Hens lead the conference with 9.29 caused turnovers a game and the Minutemen right behind them with 8.75.
Cannella is prepared for a heavy amount of pressure though, being the side suffered in turnovers against Hofstra.
“Coming off our Hofstra loss, we turned the ball over a ton,” said Cannella. “It’s just about composure and playing the way that we feel we can play, but…it’s a good defensive group.”
A big similarity between the team comes in game-winning goals. Two straight games this season – versus Towson and Drexel – the Minutemen earned victories off late overtime goals by Kyle Smith.
Delaware’s Eric Smith is tied for first in the CAA for game-winning goals with four, and Diachenko is tied for fourth along with Minutemen scorers Manny, Anthony Biscardi and Smith with two goals.
“You just go out and play,” said Cannella. “It comes down to getting a good break or getting a ground ball or winning a faceoff or making a save or making a stop. That’s what it comes down to.”
With this being the final game of the regular season, Cannella has had the chance to reflect on how his team has done. One of the expectations he set in the beginning of the 2011 season was for his seniors to step up and become leaders, something which he said has happened.
“They’ve done a good job with that, so it’s been an enjoyable group to be around because they believe in what we believe as coaches,” said Cannella.
Friday night’s game is also Senior Night for the Minutemen, and will begin at 7 p.m. under the lights at Garber Field.
Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]