Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s lacrosse looks to cap off non-conference slate on positive note

Minutemen are 4-4 in non-conference play

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(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

By Thomas Johnston, Assistant Sports Editor

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After starting its non-conference slate out on the wrong foot, the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team has found its groove as of late, winners of its last three.

The Minutemen (4-4) started the year losing four of their first five games, with three of the losses coming against ranked opponents. Slow starts have plagued UMass in each of its defeats: Army held an 8-2 halftime lead, Harvard scored eight straight goals to open the game, Yale led 9-2 at the half and Albany scored 12 of the games first 14 goals.

The Minutemen have been able to turn things around recently, coming out of the gate in stride and building early leads. UMass scored 13 of the first 14 goals against New Jersey Institute of Technology, and held halftime leads against UMass Lowell and Hartford.

When the Minutemen take on Brown (3-3) Saturday, they will be going against an explosive team that enters as the 10th-ranked scoring offense in the country. It will be important for UMass to keep the game close early and not let the Bear offense explode.

“That’s our plan every game,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said. “To get on top and play comfortably and stress free, but it doesn’t happen. Particularly on the road you have to go out and show the other team that you’re there for a game, not just there to hang out in Providence.”

One way the Minutemen can keep the Brown offense at bay would be to dominate possession of the game. That will hinge in large part on the play of Noah Rak, the reigning Colonial Athletic Association Co-Player of the Week. Rak was dominant in the faceoff circle, going 19-21 against the River Hawks and 21-27 against the Hawks. The senior also grabbed 32 groundballs combined in the two games.

Rak currently leads the CAA in groundballs and faceoff percentage, and is sixth and eighth, respectively, in the country in the two categories. Cannella hopes that Rak can continue to provide UMass with extra possessions throughout games.

“Every game it is, certainly Brown it is,” Cannella said of the importance of gaining extra possessions. “We played a bunch of teams where transition is a big part of what they’re doing in terms of scoring. We hope that Noah can continue his consistent path.”

Offensively, the Minutemen have been able to take advantage of the extra time with the ball Rak provides. On the three-game win streak, UMass is averaging 15.66 goals a game, which is typically enough to earn a victory. The Minutemen get off a ton of shots offensively, much due to their transition game that allows them to attack the defense before it can get set.

With Brown also looking to play at a fast pace, Saturday’s game could turn into a shootout. The Bears have allowed 10 goals per game thus far, but UMass may have to exceed that total to keep up with the Brown offense.

“Their goalie is very strong,” Cannella said. “If we’re going to play in transition you’re going to have to be able to put the ball in the net. That’s the way that it goes. It depends on the game. If saves are being made, we’ll be going back-and-forth. Who knows how many goals but if saves aren’t being made, we’d think it will be high scoring.”

Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.

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