UMass defense quietly living up to its reputation

By Jackson Alexander

The offensive unit deserves much of the credit for the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse’s 2-0 start to the season, but the defense’s impact has played an equally integral role.

In their 12-9 win over Army and their 11-9 victory against Bucknell, the Minutemen utilized defensive execution to both stop their opponents at critical junctures, and also to close out the games.

“I think they’ve performed very well. [In] both of our games we held our opponents under 10 [goals]. I think if you do that in college lacrosse, and obviously if you score in double figures, you’re going to win most games,” said Cannella of the defense.

Against Army, the Minutemen withstood a late charge by the Black Knights, and took the season-opener. UMass defended third team Preseason All-American Garrett Thul effectively in that game, and it’s one of the biggest reasons they came out on top.

Junior Jake Smith, part of the starting defense alongside Greg Anderson and Tom Celentani, guarded Thul for most of the game and limited his production.

Thul scored two goals in the game, but needed eight shots to reach that number, and failed to register an assist.

The combination of Celentani, Smith and Anderson also helped cause 16 Army turnovers.

More of the same production came in the second game of the season versus Bucknell. This time the long stick defender, Celentani, starred for the Minutemen.

He was a constant pest to the Bison attackmen throughout the game, in particular, Billy Eisenreich, Bucknell’s best player.

“He’s an excellent player, he prepares well, and he has a great understanding of what we want to accomplish,” said UMass coach Cannella of Celentani.

“He’s somebody that comes in, watches a ton of tape on his opponent, and it’s no surprise he goes out on the field and does what he does,” added Cannella.

UMass again won the turnover battle as the Bison committed 17 turnovers compared to the Minutemen’s 13 giveaways.

They also improved on another aspect of their game against Bucknell: ground balls. In the first game of the season, the Black Knights won the battle of the ground balls 30-28. However, UMass bounced back and narrowly edged the Bison for a 26-24 advantage.

In that game, the Minutemen exemplified their bend-don’t-break defense as they struggled at times down the stretch, but never let the floodgates open.

Down 11-9 with 4 minutes, 21 seconds remaining, and all the momentum on Bucknell’s side, the defense stiffened and did not allow the Bison to score for the remainder of the game.

Bucknell only managed one shot in that time frame, and it was a shot that UMass goalie Tim McCormack stopped.

“I think our defense buckled down at that point, they knew we needed a stop [and] Tim made a save,” said Cannella. “Anytime you can stop a team, whether it’s the first possession of the game, or the last possession of the game, I think it’s impressive.”

The defense stood up to the tests it faced during the first two games of the season, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

“There’s room for improvement everywhere,” said Cannella. “[It’s] still early in the season, we’re still trying to find the true identity of our team and I think over the course of your first four or five games you find that out.”

The Minutemen will need to be in near flawless form on Saturday when they take on No. 12 Ohio State on the road.

“Both those teams we played are very talented, and this game will be no different,” said Cannella.

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