When the whistle blows to signal the opening faceoff at Drexel on Saturday, the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team will officially embark on the Colonial Athletic Association portion of its 2018 schedule.
The Minutemen (5-4) enter the opening conference matchup against the Dragons (4-4) coming off a 14-12 victory over Brown last week, which extended their current win streak to four games.
Drexel is on a streak of its own heading into Saturday’s contest following two impressive showings at home in 15-10 and 11-10 (double overtime) victories over No. 11 Georgetown and Providence, respectively.
“Drexel is a very skilled team, a tough team and fast team with good size,” Minutemen coach Greg Cannella said. “They shoot and score the ball really well at a high percentage and their goalie is playing really well. He’s been consistent all year.”
In net for the Dragons, Chre Teitelbaum has accumulated a .556 save percentage through seven appearances, allowing an average of 8.94 goals per game.
On the other side of the ball, Drexel currently holds the highest shot percentage in the conference, boasting a .318 conversion rate. “They’re on a roll right now,” Cannella said. “It’s going to be a battle.”
UMass has been battling for most of its season thus far, losing four of its first five games before going off on the four-game win streak that it rides into Saturday.
“I’m happy for the guys because they’ve seen a little bit of success and obviously they’ve worked hard to see that,” Cannella said. “We’re a little over halfway here in the third quarter now so, again, they’ve worked hard to get to where they are, but they need to continue to push forward.”
With the recent success the Minutemen have encountered and only five regular season games to go before the start of the CAA Championship, Saturday’s matchup poses as a critical point in the development of their season.
“We’re just continuing to do what we do, working on the things that we’ve been successful with, and trying to fine-tune everything,” Cannella said. “There’s no need to go and change things, if we’re at this point and we are who we are, we just need to continue to be better at who we are.”
The prominent netminder for UMass in its recent stretch of success has been first year and Georgia native Hampton Brannon, who has started the previous five contests and garnered all four wins. In eight total appearances on the season, he holds a .487 save percentage with 58 goals allowed.
Junior netminder Sean Sconone appeared in six games over the course of the out-of-conference schedule and secured one win with a .479 save percentage.
As Brannon looks to solidify his spot as the primary Minuteman goaltender in conference play, Sconone has provided a knowledgeable, experienced backup for the freshman in his first season at the collegiate level.
“Both goalies have worked hard all year,” Cannella said. “Sconone has done a really good job of supporting [Brannon] recently. He’s been around for a couple of years and he’s seen a lot so he’s able to help him with the clear game, help him settle down, and help him lead the defense.”
Alongside the start of conference play also comes an increased amount of practice time for the Minutemen, who will now have at least six days of rest in between the remainder of their games.
“It can be good and bad,” Cannella said. “It depends on your team. Sometimes it needs to get back out there and play right away and sometimes it needs a week. We’ve had teams that weren’t great with the full week and some teams that were great with it, so we’ll let you know in a few weeks.”
Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.