UMass loses narrowly to Army West Point 14-13 in season opener

Strong second and third quarters keep Minutemen fighting until the end

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Eva Trainer/ Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team came into its season opener against Army West Point with intensity, not allowing the No. 10 ranking attached to the Black Knights (1-0) to mean anything more than a number.

UMass (0-1) fought until the very end of the game, stringing together a pair of late scores to get back within one goal as time dipped under 40 seconds. But ultimately a key face off win by Army sent the Minutemen home just short of a comeback win, falling 14-13 on Saturday afternoon.

“Overall it’s a great effort,” head coach Greg Cannella said after the game. “I’m not into moral victories but its a really good team to play on the road so there’s a lot of positives, we learned a lot about ourselves and also a couple different lessons … you’re never ever not in any game, so I was happy to see our guys fight.”

After a rough first quarter saw the Black Knights jump out to a comfortable lead, UMass found a rhythm offensively and put pressure back on Army. Shane O’Leary kicked off a three-goal run for the Minutemen in that frame and played a key role in the offensive zone for the entirety of the contest. O’Leary scored a momentum-shifting buzzer beater goal at the end of the third that knotted the score at 10-10 and provided energy for UMass heading into the final quarter.

“It’s a tremendous effort by [O’Leary], and awareness to get the shot off and get it on goal,” Cannella said. “Just surreal that you have a redshirt freshman on the field who makes a play like that, that bodes well for [O’Leary] and the team this year.”

O’Leary finished the game with a hat trick but was far from the only positive contributor to the Minutemen offense. Five players finished with at least three points against the Black Knights including a healthy balance of veterans and new additions to the lineup. Graduate students Kevin Tobin and Chris Connolly combined for seven points and Tobin led the team with four by himself on two goals and two assists.

Anthony Sericolo and Logan Liljeberg produced quality chances as well. Sericolo potted two goals and added one assist and Liljeberg joined O’Leary in finishing the game with a hat-trick.

Liljeberg was slotted into a starting attacking role to open the season and put his goal-scoring ability on display during one play where he drove past his defender before diving towards the crease and slipping the ball past Army goalkeeper Wyatt Schupler.

“Logan has been very consistent the entire year, brings a lot of energy, great feel for the game,” Cannella said. “It’s just consistency, [Liljeberg] has been consistent, James Caddigan has been consistent, [Connolly] is coming off an injury but he’s been consistent as a quarterback.”

Plays like the ones by O’Leary and Liljeberg kept the Minutemen within reach on the scoreboard and even when they went down three goals with under a minute to play, they never stopped fighting. Connolly and O’Leary scored goals 12 seconds apart and got UMass close to forcing overtime before Army found a way to control the remaining time and hang on to its victory.

Despite scoring 13 goals, the Minutemen had trouble getting shots past Schupler, who performed well in his own right, making 18 saves including a few key stops during UMass’ strong second half.

On the other side, Matt Knote made a few big saves but wasn’t able to perform to the level he had in most games during his first two seasons. Still, the junior came up with eight saves and the defense in front of him helped force turnovers during the second half that kept the pressure off of him late in the game.

Zach Hochman had a rough day in the faceoff circle, winning only one of his eight draws and being called for multiple violations. Caleb Hammett stepped up in his place, coming up with 12 face-off wins and eight losses. In the past Hochman has been the only go-to face off specialist utilized but now Cannella has the confidence to roll out Hammett or even Ryan Henry when Hochman doesn’t have an edge.

Even in defeat the Minutemen have a lot to build off as they head towards their home opener on Saturday, Feb. 19 against UMass Lowell. Face off is set for 1 p.m.

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.