UMass men’s lacrosse hopes to move past difficult offseason

By Nicholas Casale

(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)
(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)

The University of Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team started the 2013 season with seven wins and only two losses, but a mix of injuries, frustration and an overall lack of cohesion were enough to loosen the team’s bolts. UMass ended up losing its final four games of the year, finishing 7-6 and 1-4 in Colonial Athletic Association play, which was enough to prevent the talented team from reaching the postseason.

Understandably, those successive defeats in the latter half of the season left a sour taste in the mouths of the Minutemen, but the squad has a chance to get rid themselves of those bitter memories by focusing its efforts on reaching the postseason this spring.

The man pulling the strings for UMass is coach Greg Cannella, who enters his 21st year at the helm. Over the years he has constructed an impressive resume, which includes bringing his team to eight NCAA tournament games, one National Championship appearance and last year he was inducted into the National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

For Cannella though, his focus remains on what lies ahead.

Between last year and now, the Minutemen have worked hard over the long offseason, but it was one that the team is ready to forget.

“It’s been a long offseason for us,” Canella said. “We have had numerous injuries to some of our top players, which meant that we could not practice at full strength or do what we wanted to get done in practice. On top of those injuries, we also had a couple of guys leave the program, so to get back on the field and put those distractions behind us will be great.”

Despite the fact that the Minutemen had a less than ideal offseason, the team still returns a handful of starters, including most of its attack and All-American midfielder Ryan Izzo, who was one of the notable injured players. In addition to Izzo, last season’s New England Freshman of the Year, Nick Mariano, who led the team with 29 goals and 10 assists, and senior forward Grant Whiteway, who contributed 18 goals and 6 assists last season, all return.

In addition to a batch of strong returning players, Cannella also feels as though some of the 12 freshmen are ready to contribute from the get-go.

“I think you will see a good smattering of the new guys once the season comes around,” he said. “Peter Lindley in attack, midfielders Jake Lisauskas, Shane Rinkus and Buddy Carr have played well in the offseason to name a few, so I hope that they can all adjust to the college level and be assertive once they get out there.”

But Cannella knows that his team cannot rely on spurts of individual heroics, or on a few players to carry the weight of the entire team on and off the field, which is why he has encouraged his players to take care of one another through victory and in loss.

Cannella said that the only way to make the tournament at the end of the year is by “sticking together.”

“The season is unique in that is really is a sprint and a marathon,” he said. “You have to take care of your body and work together to make it through the grind, but we failed to do that last year.

“Our first step as a team this year is to return to our core values, which consist of stamina, fortitude and leadership. Without those things it is impossible to be successful, no matter how much talent we have.”

The Minutemen will play five in-conference CAA games, as well as 10 out of conference matchups against powerhouses such as Penn State and North Carolina.

UMass will begin competing Jan. 24 in an exhibition against St. John’s in New York, with their season opener Feb. 7 at Garber Field against Army.

Nicholas Casale can be reached at [email protected]