Sellner: UMass balance will pay dividends in playoffs

By Stephen Sellner

Watching the top-ranked Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team (tied for No. 1 in the USILA Coaches’ Poll and ranked No. 2 overall in the Inside Lacrosse poll) play this season has been nothing short of a treat for fans, players’ parents and anyone who’s been fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a game this season.

Not every team has the ability to explode on the offensive end for 17 goals and then turn around the next game and hold the opposition scoreless through three-and-a-half quarters. The word “balance” doesn’t even do this Minutemen team justice.

With stockpiles of talent on both sides of the field, UMass has proven from game-to-game that it can beat you in any way possible, something that not every team can hang its hat on.

For some squads, a shootout is its best option towards capturing a “W.” They’ll put out skilled attackmen and playmaking midfielders that can hang with the best of them, but experience a major drop-off on the other end. While this option can be effective, the task of outscoring the opposition every time out is a lot to ask of a team, especially in lacrosse where about 40 percent of shots miss the net let alone reach the back of it.

Others will try to keep the game close with a defensive-minded game plan with the hopes that it can get timely scores to march to victory.

Fortunately for the Minutemen, they can succeed in whichever type of game plays out on the field.

Want to get in a shootout? Good luck matching the production of Will Manny (the nation’s fifth-leading goal scorer), Kyle Smith, Anthony Biscardi, Art Kell and company, who are averaging a collective 12.45 goals per contest.

Maybe a low-scoring affair is your fancy. Well, meet the imposing defensive trio of Jake Smith, Tom Celentani and Greg Anderson and see how many quality shots you can muster against them over the course of 60 minutes. So far, the nearly-impenetrable unit has allowed just 20.2 percent of its opponents’ shots to hit the cage.

Oh, and don’t forget about goalie Tim McCormack, who’s allowed the second-fewest goals per game in the country.

UMass has proven time and time again that no matter the tempo of the game, it has what it takes to prevail.

Take this past Saturday’s win against Drexel for example. Heading into the affair, the Minutemen reeled off a pair of blowout victories at home over then-No. 19 Towson and Saint Joseph’s by a combined score of 29-6. UMass was clearly the better team on both occasions and the results showed that.

Yet the Dragons gave everything the Minutemen could handle. A pair of Drexel goals made it a 2-0 ballgame after the first quarter and forced UMass to come from behind for the first time in nearly a month. And even when Manny and Steve D’Amario responded with goals to knot things up at two, the Dragons refused to give in, setting the stage for the back-and-forth, grind-it-out affair that the Minutemen hadn’t experienced since its overtime win at Penn State on March 17.

But UMass never panicked and finished the game scoring four of the final six goals to march past Drexel, 8-6.

UMass coach Greg Cannella says that his team plays at the same level and with the same mindset no matter the situation and with the playoffs looming in the future, the Minutemen will need to maintain that composure in order to mount a run towards a national title.

The competition will continue to stiffen with the Colonial Athletic Association playoffs right around the corner and the NCAA tournament not far behind it. Teams like Drexel, Towson, Saint Joseph’s or Hartford won’t be playing at Gillette in May like UMass will. Instead, it’ll be national powerhouses like Loyola, Maryland, Notre Dame and Duke – teams that are more than capable of giving the Minutemen everything they can handle like the Dragons did last Saturday.

But if UMass finds itself with its backs against the wall, this group has proven it has what it takes to keep marching forward instead of panicking.

After all, they’ve been there and done that already before.

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