Kyle Smith making 2012 a breakout year

By Jackson Alexander

Entering the season, there were plenty of players who were poised for breakout seasons on the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team.

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Connor Mooney, Colin Fleming, Mike Fetterly and Ryan Izzo all could have conceivably made the jump from a role player to one of the top contributors.

All four of those players have made their impact felt this season, but not to the degree of a breakout season.

Instead, after a four-goal, two-assist performance versus Towson last time out, it’s safe to say that junior Kyle Smith is the breakout player of the year for the Minutemen.

“He finished the ball [and] that’s really his job. But he also really contributed in transition, he had two nice assists.” said UMass coach Greg Cannella of Smith’s performance in his team’s 14-3 win last Saturday.

Smith now ranks second on the team in points with 32, and the attacker’s goal count now sits at 23, which puts him second on the team in that category.

“Right now he’s at a career high for assists and goals,” said Cannella. “He’s giving us a great effort every day.”

These numbers come off a season in which Smith started 13 games, scored 11 goals and recorded four assists from the attack position.

Smith’s 17-point jump in production from last year ranks best among all Minutemen by a large margin, as fellow attacker Will Manny ranks second with a seven-point increase in his point total.

There is no denying the improvements Smith has made over the course of his career, as he’s jumped from 10 points his freshman year, to 15 as a sophomore and 32 through 10 games as a junior.

A major reason for the improvement can be attributed to his shot accuracy.

Last season, Smith took 38 shots and scored 11 goals (27 percent). Of the nine players with 20 or more shots on the season, his shot percentage ranked fifth.

But now, the shooting struggles are behind Smith for he ranks second among eight players with 10 shots or more in shooting percentage at 46 percent.

“He’s a guy that’s preparing the right way, he’s got the right frame of mind and the right focus right now,” said Cannella.

The emergence of Smith as a legitimate offensive threat has opened things up for Manny and Art Kell. Manny’s 52 points are a career-high for him, while Kell also appears on pace to break his career-high in points this season.

“I think it helps those guys that they play alongside him because as a finisher he’s a guy who works really hard in the crease and you look at Art and Will’s assists, a lot of them will go to Kyle,” said Cannella. “I think it’s a good combination for both groups.”

While Smith was not one of the top scorers last season, he had his moments, and came on strong towards the end.

He started the first seven games of the season for UMass and provided very little offensively (three goals, one assist).

However, his season turned around in the eighth game of the season when Smith was replaced in the starting lineup by Mooney.

He went on to score eight goals, added three assists over the final eight games and recorded game-winning overtime goals in back-to-back games against Towson and Drexel.

Cannella made the argument that Smith’s breakout season came in the second half of last year, and that this year is simply an improvement from the last.

“This year you just expect him to do it, because of the two years of experience and more confidence and being a junior,” said Cannella. “It was time to step up and he’s done that well.”

Cannella also pointed to hard work and confidence as reasons for Smith’s improved production.

“Last year, in the middle of the year, his confidence really started to turn over into a guy that we knew we were getting when we were recruiting him,” said Cannella. “He’s also worked very hard,” said Cannella. “It’s a two-pronged thing. It’s hard work and it’s confidence.”

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