UMass lacrosse shy away from NCAA, CAA rankings for 2012 season

By Stephen Sellner

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Check out more from the Collegian’s Lacrosse Special Issue: 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

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Talking to most players and coaches of the No. 13 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team, one would not sniff out any hint of the national spotlight surrounding the UMass lacrosse program.

Despite being dubbed one of the top squads in the nation and chosen by coaches to finish second in the highly-competitive Colonial Athletic Association, the Minutemen (1-0) refuse to get caught up in all the hype surrounding the program.

“We don’t approach things that way,” said UMass coach Greg Cannella on the expectations bestowed upon his team for the season. “We try to focus on what our team goals are on a daily basis rather than [a] season-long basis.”

Senior goalkeeper and team leader Tim McCormack expressed a similar message, saying that he hasn’t paid any attention to the national rankings.

However with a slew of returning starters and no shortage of experience across the roster, there’s reason to be optimistic. All 10 of the starters from last CAA Championship loss to Delaware are returning this year. McCormack, junior attackman Will Manny and senior attackman Art Kell headline a battle-tested, athletic and talented UMass squad.

The Minutemen kicked off their 2012 campaign with a hard-fought victory over a potent Army team, 12-9, in West Point, N.Y., to set the stage for a season consisting of one challenge after another.

Nothing will be handed to UMass this season; it certainly will have to be earned. The Minutemen collide with a number of prominent programs, including No. 12 Hofstra, No. 14 Bucknell, No. 15 Harvard, No. 18 Penn State, No. 20 Drexel and three other opponents that received consideration for Inside Lacrosse’s Top 20.

Cannella understands just what his team is up against on its calendar, stating, “There isn’t a team on that schedule that can’t beat us.”

Such is the case in the CAA, a conference Cannella referred to as one of the best, if not the best, in all of college lacrosse. Out of the seven teams in the conference, four are nationally-ranked to start the season, which doesn’t even include the reigning CAA champion Blue Hens.

“Any team can beat any team. You have to come out every day and play against those teams,” said Cannella. “It’s [going to] be a dog fight.”

UMass found that out the hard way last year. After storming past Delaware to the tune of 11-5 on April 29 in its regular-season finale, the Minutemen found themselves matched up with the Blue Hens once again just eight days later, but this time with a CAA championship and automatic bid into the NCAA tournament on the line. UMass couldn’t complete the sweep of Delaware for the season, falling at its very own Garber Field, 9-7, to bring an abrupt end to the year.

The loss left an impression on the players heading into the offseason, proving to be extra motivation as they prepared to get back onto the field.

Manny, who scored seven goals in the opener against Army, said he and his teammates dwelled on the loss for a time, but gave the team the extra spark to work hard over the offseason. Manny also noted that while some guys may feel reluctant to look ahead, he prefers to set goals for the season and strives to achieve them, such as the Minutemen’s fight for a CAA title.

“I honestly believe we should be the champions of the CAA this year,” said Manny.

Cannella has approached the disappointing end to the last season differently. Rather than dwell on the defeat, he looked to the positives that the season saw, including a win at the Nittany Lions in the CAA semifinals, a triple overtime triumph over Drexel and a 10-win season.

“That team accomplished a lot,” said Cannella. “Rather than focus on one game, we try to focus on the entire season.”

Cannella later added he expects his team to be better suited to take advantage if such an opportunity as a result of the experience the players gained from last year’s CAA title game.

The Minutemen enter the season as one of the favorites to grab the CAA crown, picked to finish second in the conference’s preseason standings, narrowly behind Delaware – which received three first place votes compared to UMass’ two. Hofstra and Penn State follow as third and fourth, respectively, as each received a single first place vote, followed by Drexel, Towson and Saint Joseph’s.

A trio of Minutemen earned preseason CAA honors. Senior defenseman Tom Celentani, senior midfielder Anthony Biscardi and Manny were each named to the conference’s preseason all-CAA team, as UMass tied for the most recipients with the Pride and Nittany Lions.

One game into the 2012 season, all seems to be good for UMass. Manny netted seven goals along with two assists for a nine-point performance – the first Minuteman to do so since 2003. That, along with four goals from junior attackman Kyle Smith and eight saves from McCormack, earned UMass a hard-fought victory on the road over the Black Knights.

Arguably the Minutemen’s toughest stretch will come in their final three affairs, each coming away from the confines of Garber Field. UMass concludes its regular season schedule with a trip to Drexel on April 14, a matchup with Hofstra at Gillette Stadium and the rematch with Delaware on April 27 under the lights. The road trip could prove to be a critical determiner of the Minutemen’s playoff hopes if the team manages to hold its own in its brutal non-conference schedule.

One thing’s for certain: UMass will not allow its season goals to overshadow the play and take away from its execution out on the field on a daily basis. For the Minutemen, it’s taking on each day’s challenges head on and focusing on becoming better players and a better team each and every time they hit the pitch.

UMass will try to build off its win over Army in its season opener against No. 14 Bucknell on Saturday at 1 p.m. on Garber Field.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.