Previews Of #14 UMass Lax At Saint Joseph's - UMass Athletics

Previews Of #14 UMass Lax At Saint Joseph's

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Here are a pair of previews from the Daily Collegian looking at the 14th-ranked men's lacrosse team, which travelled to Philadelphia to play Saint Joseph's on Saturday at 1 p.m.

• Tough schedule on the horizon for Minutemen

Tough schedule on the horizon for Minutemen

If there was ever a difficult time to face struggles this season, the Massachusetts men's lacrosse team is in the midst of it. The No. 17 Minutemen have lost their last two contests and are in the middle of a schedule in which they have a three-game road trip and get into the meat of conference play.

The reason for UMass' struggles lately has been the inconsistency of the offense, which has scored in double-digits once in the past five games.

"Honestly I think it's just the ability to go out there and play and not think about it too much," said UMass coach Greg Cannella. "I think for a lot of guys it's weighed heavy in the back of their heads, when they have the opportunity to score they're not just going out there and reacting ... The only thing we're struggling with is putting the ball in the back of the net."

Despite outshooting Penn State, 38-27, in a March 19 meeting, the Minutemen suffered an 8-7 loss, including going scoreless in the second quarter. Nevertheless, UMass ranks second in the Colonial Athletic Association with 10.00 goals per game, behind Drexel's average of 11.11.

Cannella also expressed that the recent offensive problems have added extra pressure to the defense, which he considers to be playing well and keeping the team in contention during games.

Dangerous stretch

Compounded with the lackluster play for the Minutemen is arguably the toughest and most significant stretch of their regular season schedule.

After playing three of its first four games this year at Garber Field, UMass needs to play six of its final nine contests on the road, where it has a 2-2 record so far.

"It's a difficult part of the year especially when you lose," said Cannella. "When you win, everybody's okay, but when you lose a couple of games and now you've got to go back on the road, it's a long trip."

The upcoming matchup with Saint Joseph's on Saturday will mark the first of five-straight conference games. In their only meeting with a CAA opponent this season, the Minutemen fell to the Nittany Lions.

Cannella understands that now, more so than any other part of the season, is a critical time for his team and would be an opportune period to get back on track.

"This is your opportunity, this is your access, that's why you get involved with leagues and league championships if that may be," said Cannella. "That's why you do it, to get access to the NCAA's and obviously it's going to be very important. This is a pretty important time for every league and every team in our league."

Jump to the CAA

UMass' matchup with SJU on Saturday will be the first ever men's lacrosse history. That's because the Hawks are new to the CAA after making a jump from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Association this year.

So far, Saint Joseph's has had trouble making a seamless transition, losing both of its CAA games and holding an 0-7 overall record. The Hawks, however, didn't fare much better last season, going 3-15 and not earning a victory until April 10 in their 11th game of the year.

Nevertheless, Cannella, who knows about transition of changing conference after the Minutemen joined the CAA in 2010, realizes that the Hawks are in an adjustment period.

"I think it's a much tougher conference for them," said Cannella. "Their non-league schedule was fairly difficult. So not only is their non-schedule tough, but their in-league [schedule] is a lot different than the MAAC."

Minutemen look to end skid against Hawks Saturday

The No. 17 Massachusetts men's lacrosse team could catch a break from its tough schedule, as it takes on a winless Saint Joseph's team on Saturday afternoon, in UMass' second Colonial Athletic Association game of the season.

The Minutemen (5-3, 0-1 CAA) enter the home of the Hawks (0-7, 0-2 CAA) having lost three of their last four contests, which were all closely-contested battles that crumbled for the Maroon and White at the end.

 Despite SJU's winless start of the season, UMass coach Greg Cannella doesn't look at the team any differently than any other opponent.

"This time you only have a couple of days [to practice]," said Cannella. "You don't have that much time, so I don't think it matters who you play. It's the opportunity to get back out there as a team and try and prove yourself."

Heading into the SJU game, Cannella and the rest of the Minutemen are taking note of the slow style the Hawks have displayed so far this season. Along with playing at a slower pace, SJU has also hustled on the defensive end by allowing no more than 10 goals in four contests this season.

"They're an athletic team - an aggressive team," said Cannella. "They play a certain style, a slow-down style, so we have to be aware of that for sure. Most of their experience is on the defensive side, it's a very young team."

Though the Hawks are youthful, the defense holds veteran seniors that will look to halt the Minutemen offense, including Rob Saraceni, Shawn Mowry, Pat Harner and Keith Belson.

"Defensively is where they have most of their critical mass," said Cannella. "They've held teams down defensively - teams that on paper are better than us on offense."

While the contest might give the Minutemen a break after taking on top-ranked teams such as No. 20 and No. 9 Army, they will have to be mindful of sophomore Kyle Williams, who leads the Hawks with 11 goals on the season.

"He presents match-up problems for you [because] he's a big and athletic kid," said Cannella. "It's going to be in his hands a bunch, and he's going to be in different spots because of his invert game."

Williams helps an ailing Hawks offense that has been outscored 23-7 in games in the first quarter alone, which is a period that the Minutemen have struggled in earlier games this season.

 The sophomore attackman doesn't stand alone on the offensive side of the ball, as Scott Cullinan, son of SJU coach Pat Cullinan, and Kyle Mahoney both have five goals and one assist on the year - good for six points each.

With Williams, Mahoney and Cullinan running the offense side, and the defense being equally formidable, the midfield also earned a lot of praise from Cannella. Ian Correia, Steve Dunn and Trevor Dougherty were picked by Cannella to work the midfield for the Hawks.

"[They are] players that are young that are trying to find their way to play a very difficult schedule," said Cannella. "They'll be fired up for us and obviously coming off of a loss, we're going to have to be ready."

Additionally, this contest will be the first time that SJU and UMass clash in CAA play, as the Hawks joined the conference this season, a year after the Minutemen's own move to the conference.

 In their final year of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play, the Hawks showed similar signs of  struggle, going 3-12 in 2010 with the three wins coming in conference play.

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