Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s lacrosse enters potential must-win scenario against Drexel

By Nick Canelas

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Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

Kyle Smith has been through his share of ups and downs in his career with the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team.

He’s suffered losing streaks and won a conference championship. He’s battled for playing time and has scored game-winning goals. He’s even experienced a perfect regular season that ended in a crushing first round defeat in the NCAA Tournament.

But never has he entered a mid-April game with his team’s Colonial Athletic Association playoff chances hanging in the balance.

On Saturday at 1 p.m., Smith will do just that as the Minutemen (5-6, 0-3 CAA) host Drexel at Garber Field for the first of three potentially must-win games to close out the regular season.

“Since I’ve been here I’ve never been put in the position where these are all real must-win games now or else your season’s over and your career is over because I’m a senior,” Smith said. “I practice with a sense of urgency (but) this week has been more intense.”

UMass comes into the weekend two games behind Hofstra for the fourth and final CAA playoff spot with just three games – including a meeting with the Pride on April 20 in Hempstead, N.Y. – left in the season.

But the No. 17 Dragons (8-3, 3-1 CAA) will likely be the Minutemen’s toughest test down the stretch. They have topped both St. Joseph’s and Albany – two teams UMass has lost to – and took then-No. 7 Virginia into overtime in an early-season defeat. They also have three 30-point scorers in Ben McIntosh (38 points), Robert Church (37) and Ryan Belka (34).

The Minutemen’s biggest challenge of the game will be trying to solve Drexel’s zone defense. UMass struggled offensively in its previous three encounters with the zone in losses to Brown, Penn State and the Hawks, making it an extra emphasis in practice this week.

“We’ve watched them play in the last two games and they’ve played strictly zone (defense),” UMass coach Greg Cannella said. “(Zone offense) has been the focus over the last three weeks.”

However, Cannella doesn’t believe that poor zone offense has led to his team’s scoring deficiencies, but just poor offensive play in general.

“If I was an opposing coach I’d play us man-to-man, we haven’t had the ability to score man-to-man or zone,” Cannella said. “If you’re a man-to-man team I wouldn’t waste my time playing zone, but if you’re a zone team you’ll play zone against us.”

This type of situation puts a little extra pressure on the seniors, whose careers are potentially in jeopardy this weekend.

The current senior class, which includes potent scorers such as Will Manny, Smith and Colin Fleming, has been frustrated by injuries and scoring troubles all season. But Fleming – who was the team’s fourth-leading scorer last season – got on the board for the first time this year in UMass’ loss to Towson last weekend and hopes it can propel himself and the rest of the offense to more success down the stretch.

“I kind of felt as if I couldn’t score for a little and I felt as though it wasn’t gonna go my way,” Fleming said. “I’ve been working out here extra a little bit.

“I think we just need to play as a team. Offense, defense for a full 60 minutes and just sort of play without any regrets, without any worry.”

The Dragons’ one trouble this year has been playing on the road, where they are 2-3 this season. Meanwhile, the Minutemen are returning home this weekend for their first game at Garber since March 16. Those two factors combined is something UMass hopes can be an advantage on Saturday.

“Garber Field is a pretty important place to me and I hope it’s the same thing for these seniors and for the rest of our team,” Cannella said.

Added Smith: “We love playing at Garber, we love defending Garber. It’s about time we’ve got some home games, so that’s good.”

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

 

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