UMass defense remains strong as it returns home to Garber Field

By Cameron McDonough

Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

While the offense has continued to struggle for the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team, its defense has emerged as a bright spot.

The Minutemen (5-6, 0-3 Colonial Athletic Association) have managed to keep their opponents from scoring in double-digits in eight of their 11 games this year and UMass coach Greg Cannella hopes that will continue in his team’s final three games of the regular season.

“The defense has been the strength of this team all year long,” he said. “You want to make sure that they remain consistent for the next three games.”

One of the reasons why the Minutemen have been strong on the defensive side has been the play of redshirt freshman goalkeeper Zachary Oliveri, who has posted an 8.31 goals against average – fourth best in the CAA – and has started in all 11 games this season. He also has a save percentage of .565, which is fifth best in the league.

The numbers themselves put him in the middle of the pack in the CAA, but they don’t tell the whole story, which is of a redshirt freshman who has stepped up to play well this season.

“He’s doing his job. We need him to make saves. Down the stretch here we’re gonna need him to be in double-digit saves every game,” Cannella said. “So as a freshman, he’s off to a good start here in terms of his career.”

Oliveri is coming off of a 10-save performance in a 9-5 loss against Towson last week, but despite the loss, Oliveri and the defense kept the Towson offense at bay throughout most of the first half.

The Tigers figured the UMass defense out in the second half though, while the Minutemen offense continued to struggle.

It won’t get any easier for the UMass defense this weekend, however, as it will be facing the top offense in the CAA.

The No. 17 Drexel (8-3, 3-1 CAA) offense is averaging close to 12 goals per game, which has helped it achieve a national ranking. The Minutemen defense will be faced with a tough task while they are trying to keep the Dragons’ attack at bay.

“Their top seven guys all have 10-plus goals. Three of them are in the 20’s in goals. All of them have just about 10-plus assists,” Cannella said. “So it’s a good unit and we’re gonna have to play our best as well as getting great goaltending.”

Home sweet home

After playing four straight games on the road, UMass will be returning to the friendly confines of Garber Field this weekend.

The Minutemen went 2-2 in those four games, which ended with two straight losses.

“We only have five home games this year,” Cannella said. “It seems like we haven’t been home in two months although it’s only been about four weeks.”

Playing at home also has certain benefits that UMass has been without for the past four games.

“I think anytime you play at home there’s a certain comfort level,” Cannella said. “You still have to get ready to play, it’s just that you don’t have to travel; you don’t have to get on a bus and stay overnight somewhere else.”

After Saturday’s 1 p.m. game against Drexel, the Minutemen will have two more games left. One of those games is on the road, while the season finale is a night game at Garber Field.

Cameron McDonough can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough.