Minutemen highlighted by veteran experience

By Jackson Alexander

Check out more from the Collegian’s Lacrosse Special Issue: UMass lacrosse shy away from NCAA | Women’s lacrosse is returning the bulk of its roster | McMahon enters second season at helm of women’s lacrosse | Asser: Lacrosse teams a great source of UMass pride | Scribner: Everybody loves overtime lacrosse | Off the field work translates to on-field excellence for Manny | McCormack leading by example| Collegian’s Special Issue in Print

Without question, the theme for this year’s Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team is experience.

They return their goalie, their entire defensive unit and actually have a few younger players this year supplanting returning starters from last year’s squad.

Ryan Hantverk, UMass’ fourth leading scorer in 2011, is the only impact player who graduated from the team.

“Experience not only helps you out there on the field in the games, but also in your preparation,” said UMass coach Greg Cannella. “Those guys are also coaches on the field, so they’ll help bring our younger guys along.”

With as much experience as UMass has, it’s easy to forget how balanced the team is in terms of the breakdown of classes.

The Minutemen feature 11 true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen, six sophomores, eight juniors and 11 seniors.

Of the 11 freshmen, Cannella pointed out a few that could make an immediate impact.

“It’s a solid group of guys,” said Cannella. “We have Ryan Izzo, a redshirt freshman, who is in that class and Pete Von Rosenvinge, another redshirt freshman in that class.”

Cannella also mentioned Andrew Sokol, Grant Whiteway, Robert Lynott and Sean Cleary as players who have stood out in the class so far.

“I think they have an opportunity to continue to hone their skill level, but also learn from some really good players,” said Cannella.

Overall, Cannella likes the fact that he has game experience from nearly every unit.

“I think it’s good any time you have experience, not just on the defensive end, but the offensive end and between the lines,” said Cannella.

Attack

The attack features multiple able scorers and a few of the best players in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Junior Will Manny, CAA Preseason Co-Player of the Year, showed that he’ll be the leader of this group this season as he scored seven goals and recorded two assists in UMass’ first game, a 12-9 win over Army. Manny’s nine-point performance was the most in a game for UMass since 2003, when Jeff Zywicki had nine points.

Manny returns from last year’s successful sophomore campaign – a year where he led the team in scoring with 22 goals and 23 assists. He finished third in the CAA in points per game (3.00) and second in the conference and 25th in the nation in assists per game (1.57).

The junior is far from alone up top. Senior Art Kell has also been a consistent contributor from the attack position for four years.

Kell led the team the team last season in goals with 28 and finished just one point behind Manny for most on the team.

“Playing with Art every day, it’s just an honor,” said Manny. “He’s the big righty, he puts some bruises on the defense.”

Starting alongside Kell and Manny is Longmeadow native Kyle Smith. Manny’s seven-goal performance in the season-opener overshadowed Smith’s big day, as the junior added a career-high four goals.

Smith got the opportunity to start 12 of 14 games last season, and registered 10 goals in that span. He converted two game-winning overtime goals in back-to-back games last season.

“I think we could be one of the best lines in the country,” said Manny.

Midfield

This season’s midfield will have a different look to it. Last year Bobby Tyler (15 starts), Ryan Hollenbaugh (14 starts) and Greg Rushing (12 starts) essentially consisted the first line midfield. In the first game of the season, none of these three started the game as Anthony Biscardi, Colin Fleming and Connor Mooney started between the lines.

Biscardi, a senior, leads the new wave of talented starters.

He was drafted in the second round of the 2012 Major League Lacrosse draft, despite seeing his scoring drop slightly in 2011. He still managed to score 20 goals and dish out 10 assists while coming off the bench in all 15 games. He was also a player named to the 2011 Tewaaraton Trophy Watch List, a list that consists of the best college lacrosse players in the nation.

Fleming started 13 games for the Minutemen and finished fifth on the team in scoring (13 goals, five assists).

Mooney, a precocious freshman last season, will look to take a more prevalent role in the offense this spring. He had some flashes of brilliance in 2011, like in his five-goal barrage versus Delaware. With a definitive spot in the starting lineup this season, Mooney should take a big step forward.

Despite scoring just two goals last year, Rushing, a senior, plays a pivotal role on the team as the team’s best face-off man.

Last season, he won 66-of-125 face-offs, translating into a 52.8 percent win percentage, which ranked 22nd in the nation.

Reserve midfielders Steve D’Amario, Mike Fetterly, Tyler, Rushing and Hollenbaugh provide experience and depth for UMass.

Defense

Tom Celentani, Greg Anderson and Jake Smith, last year’s starting defense, all return this year to help protect goalkeeper Tim McCormack.

Celentani, a senior drafted in the fourth round of this year’s MLL draft, leads the group of defenders. He stands at an impressive 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and is regarded as one of the best defenders in the CAA.

Anderson, another senior, doesn’t receive the attention Celantani does, but he provides solid contributions on the field.

The final starter, Smith, led the team in caused turnovers last year as a junior. His superlative performance in one particular week earned him the National Player of the Week, given out by the Baltimore Sun.

Hollenbaugh and junior Brett Tobin are both expected to contribute off the bench for the defense.

Goalkeepers

While Manny, Kell, and Biscardi all play vital roles on the team, redshirt senior goalie McCormack may be the most irreplaceable player for the Minutemen.

Last year, the lone team captain had his best season of his four collegiate years. He finished with solid conference and national ranks in both goals against average (fourth in CAA; 20th in NCAA), and save percentage (fifth in CAA; 19th in NCAA).

His GAA improved from 10.13 in 2010, to 8.28 in 2011 and his save percentage improved by three percentage points.

McCormack also serves as a mentor for the two young goalies, sophomore Reed Goodhue and freshman Zachary Oliveri.

Jackson Alexander can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at MDC_Alexander.