UMass men’s lacrosse hits the road to take on Fairfield in search of first CAA win

By Jamie Cushman

(Sam Anderson/Daily Collegian)

The last time the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team played Fairfield, UMass defeated the Stags 9-8 to advance to last year’s Colonial Athletic Association championship game. Earlier in that regular season, the Minutemen fell to Fairfield 10-9.

Expect much of the same and another close game Saturday when UMass (4-6, 0-2 CAA) goes on the road to face Fairfield (6-6, 2-0 CAA), as the Minutemen look for their first conference victory of the season.

“We figure it’s probably going to be a similar-type game,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said. “They graduated a bunch last year so I think it took them time to get to where they want to be. I think they are where they want to be right now, so I would expect another tight, conference game. Most likely it’s going to be pretty close.”

The Minutemen defense will need to be at the top of their game if they want to slow down the Fairfield offense. The Stags feature the two highest goal-scorers in the CAA this season: freshman Colin Burke (31 goals) and senior T.J. Neubauer (26).

Leading the conference in goals as a freshman and accumulating five CAA rookie of the week honors, UMass will be tasked with defending against the dynamic Burke for the first time on Saturday.

“Just watching tape on him, he’s a great athlete, he’s not afraid to go hard, he’s not afraid to get hit, and those are the things you look at for a good attack,” senior defenseman Bob Fahey said. “He’s not afraid to shoot from anywhere on the field.

In addition to all of his athletic attributes, Burke’s confidence as a freshman has really impressed Cannella.

“(He has) everything you want to see in a player. Particularly as a young guy, the confidence that he possesses is incredible,” Cannella said. “You hope when you get guys, because they all play at a pretty high level in high school, when you get them as freshmen, here or anywhere else, you want them to play with that same confidence. Not everybody does, he has.”

The Minutemen have already had chances to try to slow down Neubauer, though not too much success, tallying six goals in the two games between UMass and Fairfield last year.

“He’s a phenomenal player as well, just like Burke he’s having a great year,” Fahey said. “He’s really the leader of their team. They look to him to make a play whenever they can, so we’re going to do everything in our power to stop him from making those plays.”

Cannella had high praise for Neubauer’s ability as an all-around player.

“If you look at complete midfielders, he’s the best in our conference,” Cannella said. “He can play offense, he can play defense, he plays man-up, he plays the wing at the face-off, he leads the team in ground balls, he’s everywhere.”

Fairfield has had consistency in the cage this season, with junior Tyler Behring earning all 12 starts (9.90 goals against average, .547 save percentage).

After getting off to an 0-2 start in the CAA and with just three games remaining, the Minutemen are in desperate need of some wins if they hope to earn a bid to the conference tournament, but they are maintaining their same day-to-day approach.

“Our thing the whole year has been one game at a time, no matter what really the circumstances are, and I think we’ve really been preaching that this week especially,” Fahey said. “We can’t win three games on Saturday, we can only win the one on Saturday, so that’s what were focused on.”

Opening faceoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Jamie Cushman can be reached at [email protected]