The last game of the regular season can bring mixed emotions for a team. For some, it marks the final game of the season. For others, it is about building momentum heading into postseason play.
For the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse seniors, Friday night’s game against Drexel will mark the final game they play on Garber Field. Thankfully for them, they are able to enter their senior night without the added pressure of winning in order to make it into the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, as UMass (5-7, 2-2 CAA) has sealed a spot despite its loss last week.
While both Drexel and the Minutemen have clinched spots in the CAA tournament, both teams still have something to play for. For UMass, a win would give them the No. 3 seed in the tournament, allowing them to avoid a first round matchup with top-seeded Hofstra who defeated the Minutemen 15-8 last Saturday.
For the Dragons, a win would give them a chance at getting the No. 2 seed in the tournament, giving them home-field advantage in the first round. UMass coach Greg Cannella quickly put to rest any thought that this game didn’t matter much for his team.
“You’re 2-2 in the conference but you want to go 3-2,” Cannella said. “If anyone isn’t pumped up for this, we aren’t doing our jobs as coaches.”
If the Minutemen want to send their seniors home happy, they will need to get out to a better start than they did last week against Hofstra. The team’s mantra this year has been getting out to slow starts and making furious second-half comebacks. Yet when you play a team as skilled as Drexel, making that kind of comeback is much tougher.
“You avoid it by making plays early. Getting ground balls, clearing the ball at 100 percent and finishing the ball early,” Cannella said. “You have to take care of your opportunities. You have to be tight as a group and be together and in tune with each other early in the game. You have to go on the field and make the plays.”
With all the commotion that comes with senior night, it is easy to become distracted by the stuff going on off the field. Cannella hopes his team can focus on their lone goal – to win the game.
“Forget everything else, it’s great to win,” Cannella said. “You add in senior night and you want those guys to go out with a W. You want the team, coming off last week where you’re upset and disappointed, to play well and put yourself in a position to win the game. That’s where our focus is at.”
UMass is graduating 10 seniors from their program this year. That list includes attackers Gianni Bianchin and Grant Consoletti, midfielders Dylan Gruder, Dan Muller, Joe Romano and Paul Spinney, defensemen James Marusi and Tyler Weeks, faceoff specialist Charlie Schatz and goalie D.J. Smith.
“Good group,” Cannella said. “Ten in there now. A group that’s hung in there. Some guys that haven’t gotten a lot of time playing but they’ve persevered and continued to come to practice everyday. That means a ton to us. Those guys have probably learned more than guys who have bailed.”
Cannella continued: “You have three really strong captains in Weeks, Smith and Consoletti and other guys like Marusi, Muller, Joe [Romano] and Gruder; those guys are the meat of our team. We’re happy they’re with us and we will miss them next year for sure.”
Game time is set for 5 p.m. Friday night at Garber Field.
Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.