Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s lacrosse returns to Garber Field for crucial matchup with Drexel

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Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team has played its fair share of defensive battles in conference play. This Saturday against Colonial Athletic Association rival Drexel, it’s expected to be much of the same.

UMass (3-8, 1-2 CAA) will make its return to Garber Field this weekend to host a Dragons (6-6, 2-1 CAA) team riding a two-game winning streak.

“We expect them to be a very tough opponent,” midfielder Dan Muller said. “Right now in the CAA, it’s been low-scoring games, very physical one or two-goal type of games. So it’s going to be another dogfight type of game for us.”

Drexel has allowed 9.48 goals per game, which in a defensively minded CAA, ranks fourth best. For a Minutemen team that hasn’t scored in double figures in any of their last four games, coach Greg Cannella said that breaking through against the Dragons’ zone defense will be crucial.

“You have to shoot the ball well,” Cannella said. “Defensively they’ve always been sound, (Drexel coach) Brian Voelker is that kind of guy.”

Handling a zone defense proved troublesome for UMass in its 10-9 loss to Fairfield on April 4. Now preparing for the same style of defense this weekend, Cannella emphasized the importance of converting on transition opportunities and early mid-range chances to counter the zone.

“It’s difficult but when you get opportunities like transition opportunities or early offense opportunities, you have to cash in,” Cannella said. “You’re going to have to score from 12 to 15 yards. Guys are going to have to shoot it.”

The performance of sophomore attacker Nick Mariano will help dictate UMass’ success in the Dragons’ defensive zone. Despite tallying a team-high 19 points this season, Mariano has struggled in recent games.

In last Saturday’s 15-8 loss to Hartford, Mariano failed to score a goal for only the second time in his two-year collegiate career. Overall, he’s been limited to two goals and two assists over his last three games.

“He’s had opportunities, he’s struggled probably the last four or five games this year,” Cannella said. “He has to be more aggressive and he has to shoot the ball much better. He’s still getting six to eight shots per game but he has to be more efficient.”

Muller added that the possession battle will be key after the Minutemen struggled on ground ball opportunities against Hartford. The Hawks finished with a 17-to-10 advantage.

But for the season, the Minutemen and Drexel each boast similar stat lines in terms of ground ball wins and caused turnovers. While UMass is No. 1 in the CAA with seven caused turnovers per game, the Dragons place right behind at 6.92. As for ground balls, Drexel and UMass rank third and fourth respectively.

“Those are important in every game, getting those ground balls, getting those extra one or two possessions,” Muller said. “Those are what wins you games.”

With two games remaining on the Minutemen’s regular season schedule, Saturday’s game against Drexel will have major implications regarding the CAA playoffs.

Currently ranked fifth out of six teams in the CAA, UMass hopes to move into the top four teams that qualify for the conference tournament at the end of the season.

“It’s obviously a very important game just looking at Drexel right now, CAA-wise and getting in the tournament,” Muller said. “If we win this, it’ll probably put us on a good track going into the tournament.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.

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