Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

McCarthy: New season, new conference, same postseason struggles

UMass men’s lacrosse winless in conference tournaments since 2019
Kalina Kornacki/ Daily Collegian (2023)

A new conference provided new opponents, new opportunities and a fresh start for the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team. With the nation’s top goaltender and a highly-ranked defense, the Minutemen (8-6) oozed potential in 2023.

But, the more things change, the more they stay the same. For the fourth straight time, UMass couldn’t advance past the semifinal round of its conference tournament, losing 15-8 to Richmond on Thursday. All that potential, and very little to show for it.

Inconsistent offense was the Achilles heel this time around in the inaugural Atlantic 10 men’s lacrosse tournament. The Minutemen never really established an identity on that side of the ball, and it showed. There were sparks of excitement to be sure, but nothing that lasted longer than a game or two. Unforced errors and sloppy turnovers persisted throughout the season and plagued an offense that, on paper, should have been dangerous.

The pieces were in place: Gabriel Procyk looked more well-rounded than ever. A threat as both a prolific scorer and facilitator. Mike Tobin had more confidence in his shot than any of the Minutemen, and he provided a strong presence wherever he lined up on the field.

After those two, the depth seemed strong with players like Shane O’Leary, Mason Bregman, Grant Breyo and Carter Castillo. All of those players had meaningful roles in stretches, but none provided particularly consistent outputs. Maybe it was a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, or maybe there was just too much quantity, not enough quality. In any event, the offense never turned a corner, and didn’t provide any run support for the stout defense on the other side of the field.

I’ve watched and reported on just about every UMass men’s lacrosse game over the last four years. And I’ve seen this ending before. In fact, I’ve only ever seen this ending before. The 2021 and 2022 Colonial Athletic Association tournaments ended the same way for the Minutemen: a team with loads of potential hitting a brick wall in the semifinal round.

The last time UMass won a postseason game was in 2018, when it won the entire CAA tournament and earned an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. In 2019, the Minutemen came in as the No. 1 seed but was upset in the semifinal round.

The best I’ve ever seen UMass look was in 2020, but that promising campaign ended early, and the Minutemen haven’t gotten back to that sense.

So, the million dollar question: when will UMass finally get over this hump? And how will they do it?

The pieces have been in place for years, it’s just about solving the puzzle. With Matt Knote and Mike Tobin both coming back for fifth years — along with others — there shouldn’t be too much rebuilding of the roster. The defense should remain sound, and Caleb Hammett should continue to grow as a face-off specialist. Success on offense is the key to the castle, and if the Minutemen can find some semblance of consistency, I think they can break through their postseason barrier as soon as next season.

This is certainly easier said than done, but it is within reach for UMass. Find a reliable group of six that can play as a cohesive unit and attack the cage with more success. Turn the ball over less, shoot more and take higher quality shots. Everything else will fall into place if the Minutemen can improve in those areas.

One thing I’ve taken away from Greg Cannella over the last four years is that his attention to detail is superb. These problems may not have gone away, but it isn’t from a lack of effort or lack of self-awareness about them. Cannella knows what his team needs to improve on, and I believe he’ll turn the corner sooner than later.

The Minutemen are hungry for a postseason win, but they’ll step away from this season still searching.

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

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