No. 2 UMass battles Drexel on Saturday in clash of CAA’s top 2 teams

By Stephen Sellner

First place in the Colonial Athletic Association is on the line Saturday as the No. 2 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team faces off against Drexel in Bethpage, N.Y.

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

UMass (10-0, 3-0 CAA) comes into the game in sole possession of first place, but the Dragons (5-6, 3-1 CAA) are just a half-game behind.

After three consecutive blowout victories at home, the Minutemen hit the road for three straight games away from Garber Field to conclude the regular season, starting with Drexel. UMass closes the regular season against fellow CAA foes Hofstra at Gillette Stadium and reigning CAA champion Delaware in Newark, Del.

UMass coach Greg Cannella hopes his squad can carry its momentum from the home stand onto the road.

“You’re happy with the way you perform at home, now you [have to] go do it on the road,” he said. “Neutral site games are away games so you just hope you can go there and, again, play well and not have that affect you.”

So far, the Minutemen haven’t let showed any signs of slipping up on the road. In fact, they’ve played some of their best competition away from Garber, besting Army, Ohio State and No. 16 Penn State in enemy territory this season.

Judging by its record, UMass could be easy to count out Drexel and its sub-.500 record. However, the Dragons have lost five, one-goal games, including a 9-8 loss on opening day against No. 1 Virginia. A goal here and there and Drexel could be 10-1 and eyeing a spot in the Top 5.

“We’re [going to] have to be at our best, no doubt,” said Cannella.

UMass has played at a national-title-contending level this season, jumping out to a 10-0 start to match the program’s best start ever. The Minutemen also won its first 10 games in 2001, but lost its next game and finished 12-2.

Despite the undefeated record, Cannella said his team hasn’t peaked.

“We still feel … that we haven’t played our best game for 60 minutes,” he said. “And hopefully we can do that at some point this season.”

UMass needs to bring its A-game if it hopes to defeat the Dragons, who feature an experienced rotation. Drexel started five seniors and two juniors in its most recent game against the Nittany Lions.

Junior attackman Robert Church leads the way with 19 goals and 13 assists, both tops on the team. Junior Brendan Glynn and senior Kyle Bergman are playmakers on the offensive end as well with 15 and 12 goals, respectively.

Seniors Brian Teuber and Frank Tufano anchor the Dragon defense in front of senior goalie Mark Manos. The unit allows just 8.09 goals per game.

Cannella joked that it feels like the Minutemen have played against some of the Drexel players for seven years.

“You feel like you’ve played against a lot of these guys for seven years because they’ve been so instrumental in their success as a team,” said Cannella.

Saturday’s matchup against the Dragons is just the first of a grueling stretch of quality CAA opponents that gave UMass fits a year ago.

Last year’s matchup was a classic, going into triple overtime before Kyle Smith deposited the game-winner to lift the Minutemen to a walk-off, 11-10 win at Garber Field.

Hofstra handed UMass the worst loss of its season, 14-5, in East Hartford, Conn., on April 23 in a game that the Minutemen trailed by as many as 10.

UMass defeated Delaware in its regular season finale last year on Garber Field, but dropped a heartbreaker to the Blue Hens in the CAA championship game on the Minutemen’s home turf, 9-7.

Cannella knows just how difficult and crucial this road trip is for his team.

“You look at these games and two of the three teams beat us [and] we beat the other team in three overtimes, so none of these games are [going to] be easy and obviously the importance of the league and the possibility of getting into the league championship is at stake,” said Cannella.

The Minutemen and Dragons face off at 2 p.m. at Bethpage High School.

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