Minutemen take on Blue Hens in CAA regular season finale
Friday night's affair with Delaware will pit the No. 20 Massachusetts men's
lacrosse team against a similar Colonial Athletic Association squad under the lights at Garber Field.
The Minutemen (8-4, 3-2 CAA) will host the Blue Hens (9-5, 4-1 CAA) in the final contest of the regular season for both sides. UMass, which has already qualified for the CAA tournament, will look to use this game to raise its position in the postseason table as the playoffs near.
The highest UMass can finish is in second place, getting help with a win over the Blue Hens and a victory from Penn State over Hofstra on Saturday. However, the Minutemen would have to outscore Delaware by 11 goals or score 23 more goals than the Pride to earn the two seed.
A loss to Blue Hens and victories by Hofstra or PSU would give the Minutemen the fourth seed.
"We have to just focus on Delaware and we'll move on from there," said UMass coach Greg Cannella. "We're in, but we have to focus on this game tomorrow night. It's a big game for us and obviously a big game for them. We've both come off of pretty good butt-kicking's. Both teams will want to get back on track before we start the CAA tournament."
The Blue Hens enter Garber Field with a group of double-digit goal scorers in Eric Smith (19), Grant Kaleikau (12), Sean Finegan (17), Nick Elsmo (13), Nick Diachenko (14) and John Mills (11). These offensive players tend to work off of the transition game, something that Cannella is well aware of.
"It's tough," said Cannella. "Those guys are good. We're going try to do our best to limit those guys. They're particularly dangerous in transition. Again, this is another team that can put six guys out there that can really bring it at once so it's going be tough."
More than just a goal scorer, Kaleikau has been dishing out top assists for the Blue Hens throughout the season as he currently sits in second place in the CAA jn assists per game with 1.67 (one spot above UMass sophomore Will Manny).
"He's a good player," said Cannella. "[He's] quick, [and] was dangerous last year against us, very quick, will handle the ball behind [the net], he can score it, [and] he can feed it. We're going have to clamp down on him and do our best. Guys like that and teams like this, you plan on limiting them. You can't think you're going stop them."
In last season's game between the two sides, Kaleikau dished out two assists in the Blue Hens' 9-6 victory. Although Kaleikau also lost the ball four times off of turnovers, the Blue Hens caused more turnovers than the Maroon and White (13-6).
This season, the two sides are close in caused turnover standings, as the Blue Hens lead the conference with 9.29 caused turnovers a game and the Minutemen right behind them with 8.75.
Cannella is prepared for a heavy amount of pressure though, being the side suffered in turnovers against Hofstra.
"Coming off our Hofstra loss, we turned the ball over a ton," said Cannella. "It's just about composure and playing the way that we feel we can play, but...it's a good defensive group."
A big similarity between the team comes in game-winning goals. Two straight games this season - versus Towson and Drexel - the Minutemen earned victories off late overtime goals by Kyle Smith.
Delaware's Eric Smith is tied for first in the CAA for game-winning goals with four, and Diachenko is tied for fourth along with Minutemen scorers Manny, Anthony Biscardi and Smith with two goals.
"You just go out and play," said Cannella. "It comes down to getting a good break or getting a ground ball or winning a faceoff or making a save or making a stop. That's what it comes down to."
With this being the final game of the regular season, Cannella has had the chance to reflect on how his team has done. One of the expectations he set in the beginning of the 2011 season was for his seniors to step up and become leaders, something which he said has happened.
"They've done a good job with that, so it's been an enjoyable group to be around because they believe in what we believe as coaches," said Cannella.
Friday night's game is also Senior Night for the Minutemen, and will begin at 7 p.m. under the lights at Garber Field.
Seniors honored Friday at Garber Field
Friday's clash with Delaware will be more than just another game on the schedule for the No. 20 Massachusetts men's lacrosse team. It's more than the final regular season game or the conclusion of the Colonial Athletic Association regular season schedule.
The Minutemen and their fans will pay tribute to seniors Ryan Hantverk, Brett Newgaard, Casey Rahn, Travis Tripucka, Mael Walkowiak, Mike Wilus and Stephen Zorkers for their commitment and contributions made to the program prior to the team's 7 p.m. faceoff at Garber Field.
UMass coach Greg Cannella believes that the class' legacy goes beyond the stat sheet.
"They've done a lot more in terms of leadership then they have in what you see out there on the field," said Cannella, who emphasized the importance of the seniors' positive effect on the team both in the locker room and out on the field.
The class of 2011 includes a pair of players on the offensive end. Hantverk, a team captain from East Rockaway, N.Y., has played in 53 games, starting 33 of them and has tallied 39 goals and 21 assists during his tenure. Wilus, a North Wales, Penn. resident has seen action in 33 games during his career and scored three goals during his tenure at UMass.
The majority of the senior class operates in the defensive end. Newgaard, a Sterling, Va. resident, has played in 30 games for the Minutemen. Rahn, also a team captain and resident of Princeton, N.J., has appeared in 53 games, starting 15 of them, and provides constant hustle and determination on the field.
Tripucka, has been one of the anchors of the defensive unit this year, starting 17 of 43 games during his career. The Boonton Township, N.J. native was also a long-snapper for the football team in the fall. Walkowiak transferred to UMass from Queens University for his junior and senior seasons. Midway through his junior season, the Salem, Mass. resident changed positions from a goalie to a defensive midfielder and has appeared in 11 games as a Minuteman.
Zorkers rounds out the senior class. A Quincy, Mass. native, the midfielder has played in 54 games and started all 15 contests in his sophomore season.
The seniors have experienced a rollercoaster ride during their careers. Over the past four years, UMass has a 30-25 record, including an Eastern College Athletic Conference title in 2009, triumphing over Rutgers, 11-10, in overtime to qualify for the NCAA tournament. The conference title was one year removed from the team's 5-9 campaign in 2008, when the seniors were freshmen.
Cannella believes that Senior Night allows him to reflect on the time spent and bonds formed with his graduating players, calling it a "rewarding feeling."
"These guys are like your kids for four years," said Cannella. "You watch them grow up from 18 to 22 years old ... and now they're men and they're ready to move on with their lives. It's an incredible feeling. When you step back and think about that, the effect that you've had on each other ... it's really why you're in coaching."
Friday's game will be played under the lights, marking the first night game at Garber Field since April 9, 2004 when UMass topped Manhattan, 16-4. The later start figures to draw a greater turnout from students as opposed to the team's typical Saturday afternoon affairs.
Cannella believes the atmosphere will create additional intensity for both sides in what is sure to be a competitive game.
"I think the lights will bring both teams fired up," said Cannella. "It adds a lot of juice to [the game], but [I] hope that our guys can handle that and stay composed."