Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Canelas: Someone new needs to emerge offensively for UMass men’s LAX

Cade Belisle/Collegian

It hasn’t been the kind of season that anyone expected from the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team.

Fresh off a perfect regular season in 2012 and a Colonial Athletic Association title, the Minutemen came into this year with something to prove following a disappointing first round exit in the NCAA tournament.

UMass returned three of its top four goal-scorers and blanketed goalkeeper Zachary Oliveri with a veteran defense. The bar was raised to a new high and the Minutemen were a no-brainer to repeat as CAA champions and return to the tournament.

Things haven’t quite gone according to plan, however.

UMass (5-5, 0-2 CAA) is a .500 team on the outside looking in for the final CAA spot with four games remaining, and appears to have no answer for its woeful offense.

The Minutemen have scored in double figures just three times through 10 games this season and only once in the last eight contests, including just six tallies in a loss to a St. Joseph’s team that they beat 15-3 last season.

At first, it appeared that injuries to preseason Tewaaraton nominee Will Manny and high-scoring midfielder Colin Fleming were the root of the problem. But their efforts have done little to help UMass, which is 2-2 in the four games since the duo has returned.

The defense certainly deserves no blame for the mediocre mark, as Oliveri has been stellar in the first of what could be an illustrious four-year career in goal.

What the Minutemen need is someone to emerge as the go-to guy offensively in these final four games.

It’s almost a given that they’ll get consistent multi-goal performances from Manny and Kyle Smith as they play for their collegiate lives down the stretch. But they can’t do it all on their own.

Manny and Smith have combined for nearly half of UMass’ goals in the last four games with little consistency throughout the rest of the lineup.

Last season, that third option was Art Kell, who finished second on the team in scoring with 53 points. Right now, Smith is the only player this year with a realistic shot to reach the 50-point mark.

The Minutemen seemed to have the answers early. They were 3-0 and their leading scorers were Matt Whippen and Andrew Sokol with 10 points apiece. In the seven games since, the midfielders have combined for lackluster 11 points and UMass is 2-5 in that span.

Maybe they still are the answers. If so, then it’s time for them to wake up from this scoring coma and get back to early-season form.

Or maybe it’s Connor Mooney. The junior is currently the team’s second-leading scorer, but he only seems to be good for a point or two per game.

The most logical choice is Grant Whiteway, who starts with Manny and Smith on the first attack unit, which was Kell’s spot last season. The sophomore has shown scoring-prowess, notching hat tricks twice this season. But he’s also been blanked three times.

All of these players have the potential to be premier goal-scorers, and have shown signs of excellence at different points this season, but none of them have found a way to do it consistently.

If there’s one thing that UMass coach Greg Cannella has preached to his team more than anything else, it’s consistency. And he’s yet to find it offensively from anybody not named Will Manny or Kyle Smith despite his pleas.

Yes, this is an overall young and inexperienced team on the offensive end. But there is certainly no lack of talent.

And if this offensive deficiency persists, it’s not only something that will continue to hurt the Minutemen this year, but it’ll almost certainly carry over into next year when Manny and Smith are gone.

Whether it be Whiteway, Whippen, Mooney or Sokol, somebody has to make a huge leap in maturity and take over as that third go-to guy this season. Someone has to be this year’s Kell if UMass wants to be successful because pretty soon, one of these players will have no choice but to be that guy next year, or the Minutemen could end up worse off in 2014.

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

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