NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Notebook: UMass Finds Wins Come with Health, Balance
by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com
Reigning CAA rookie of the year Will Manny headlines UMass' balanced offense. The Minutemen are 3-0 after knocking off Army, Hartford and Ohio State.
Massachusetts men's lacrosse coach Greg Cannella lives with the depth issue pretty much every year. The Minutemen, like so many teams in that second tier of the Division I hierarchy that forms behind the elite group - starting with Virginia and Syracuse - are often a key injury or two away from big problems.
Rewind to the 2010 season, when UMass, after a 6-2 start, lost star attackman Art Kell for the remainder of the season to a broken foot. The Minutemen went 2-4 after that, and finished the year by getting blown out by Towson, 13-6, in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament semifinals.
"The way it goes here, we're not built like Virginia or Syracuse. We don't have that kind of depth," Cannella said. "If one or two guys go down, it usually means trouble."
So far in 2011, ninth-ranked UMass is looking like potential trouble for its opponents. Tucked up in bone-chilling Amherst, by far the northernmost outpost in the CAA, the Minutemen (3-0) already have knocked off a highly-regarded Army team and have taken down Ohio State, just one week after the Buckeyes enjoyed a breakout win over North Carolina.
Scoring balance has been an early key, as UMass has outshot its three victims, 124-76. First of all, Kell (five goals, seven assists) is back, moving well and showing his strength and toughness around the crease. So is sophomore attackman and reigning CAA rookie of the year Will Manny (six goals). Sophomore Matt Palasek, a talented, 6-foot-3 transfer from Johns Hopkins, should emerge as a strong, catch-and-shoot target around the net.
The midfield is looking pretty deep, as second-liners Anthony Biscardi and Colin Fleming each have five goals. And the defense, which has surrendered eight goals per game, is looking stingier with junior defenseman Tom Celentani (6-foot-4) and sophomore defenseman Jake Smith throwing their weight around in front of goalie Tim McCormack. Junior midfielder Greg Rushing (.533 faceoff win pct., 24 ground balls) has been a workhorse.
"We've got a good group of seniors pushing a lot of good young players forward. It's been a total team effort," Cannella said. "We haven't faced that much adversity yet. You hope guys stay consistent when we do face it."