Previews Of UMass Lacrosse In ESPNU Warrior Classic - UMass Athletics

Previews Of UMass Lacrosse In ESPNU Warrior Classic

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Check out these previews of UMass playing in the ESPNU Warrior Classic, taking on long-time rival Hofstra on Saturday at 3 p.m.

Lacrosse: Four-team league tourneys here to stay

by Eddie Timanus on Apr. 21, 2011, under USA Today Sports

Like them or not, four-team postseason conference tournaments are here to stay in the top division of collegiate men's lacrosse.

The Atlantic Coast Conference staged its first tournament among its four members that sponsor the sport in 1989. The era of automatic NCAA qualification has prompted other leagues to add postseason events, and the scramble to qualify in some of those leagues heats up this weekend with Selection Sunday less than three weeks away.

There is plenty of intrigue in the Colonial Athletic Association, where only 19th-ranked Delaware is assured of a top-four finish with its 4-0 league record. Four contenders remain alive for the other three CAA tourney slots. Two of them, No. 8 Hofstra and No. 15 Massachusetts, square off in East Hartford, Conn., Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ESPNU). Also in the mix is Penn State, which visits Delaware on the Blue Hens' senior night Saturday. Drexel can also stay alive if it can get past hard-luck Towson.

"It's very competitive," says UMass coach Greg Cannella of the CAA. "You just go into these games telling your guys it's probably going to be a one-goal contest, so every play matters. We've been in five one-goal games. We've been a little bit up and down, but our leadership has been there."

The Minutemen outlasted Drexel in triple overtime a week ago to stay in the three-way tie for second in the conference at 3-1. They face a big test this week against Hofstra's Andrew Gvozden, who leads Division I with a 5.58 goals-against average. In addition, the Pride have an efficient attack unit; the trio of Jay Card, Jamie Lincoln and Stephen Bentz has a combined 98 points.

"Stephen Bentz is the hubcap, and we've got the two big wheels on the outside," says Hofstra coach Seth Tierney. "They do a good job working together."

Junior Tim McCormack is also solid in the cage for UMass, surrendering a shade over eight goals a game. Will Manny paces the Minutemen offense with 19 goals and 18 assists.

"It's always a battle," says Tierney of life in the CAA. "We recruit against each other, we play each other tough. The Colonial is a blue-collar, parking-lot brawling kind of league. It's just good, old-fashion lacrosse. We're just happy to be 11-1 overall and we're just hoping to move forward."

The Pride's lone loss was against Delaware -- by one goal, naturally. Delaware would secure a home semifinal game with a win against Penn State. But the Hens will have to contend with Nittany Lions' freshman Austin Kaut, who turned in the goaltending performance of the year on March 19 at UMass with 25 saves in an 8-7 win. Kaut has the nation's best save percentage (.633) entering Saturday night's game.

"Within the first couple of weeks this fall we knew we had someone who was going to establish himself as a potential starter," says first-year Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni. "For a freshman, he's got an uncanny ability to lead and be a presence in the goal regardless of the situation."

Delaware is also well represented in the crease with senior Noah Fossner, who made 13 stops in the key 7-6 win against Hofstra.

"Noah's been fantastic. I've enjoyed every minute coaching him," says Bob Shillinglaw, who enters Saturday night's game with 297 career wins at the helm of the Blue Hens' program. "He's just great with people, with his leadership on and off the field."

In addition to positions in their own tournament, the CAA frontrunners are also trying to keep hopes of at-large NCAA consideration alive if they need it.

"As close as we're all playing each other, I think it's anybody's ballgame at this point," Shillinglaw says. "We're a lot like the Patriot League with all the close games we've had. It's going to come down to the wire."

Ah yes, the Patriot League. With that conference's tournament just one week away, the four participants are already determined, with Army and Lehigh locked into the third and fourth seeds, respectively. The only thing remaining to be determined is the regular-season champ and tournament host. That will be settled Saturday as No. 12 Bucknell visits No. 16 Colgate (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network).

Both the Bison and the Raiders bring five-game winning streaks into their match-up. Bucknell (11-2, 5-0) is 4-0 in one-goal contests, including a double-overtime win against Navy and triumphs at Army and Lehigh in their last two outings. By contrast a year ago, the Bison finished 8-6, with all the losses effectively by singles (Army scored into an empty net late to win by two).

"We just made a commitment to get tougher mentally and physically so we could win those close games," Bucknell coach Frank Fedorjaka says. "We just came in with a lot of focus, and the guys are holding each other accountable if someone isn't running hard or is hanging his head, they'll let them know about it. It's fun to talk about now because so far it's paying off."

The Bison are led by a solid mix of veteran talent and youth. Senior Ryan Klipstein has a team-high 40 points, and freshman Todd Heritage (16 goals, six assists) recorded a hat trick in his first career game and notched the overtime winner against Navy.

But the Raiders (9-3, 5-0) haven't been shabby in close games themselves, with one-goal wins in the league against Navy and Lafayette. Sophomore Peter Baum paces the attack with 41 points.

"There's a lot of parity in this league," says Colgate coach Jim Nagle. "I don't know that this game will impact the tournament itself, but it would be nice not to have to travel."

Fedorjaka agrees: "There's a lot riding on this game. As far as playing Army or Lehigh, we had trouble scoring against both of them, so in that regard it doesn't matter that much. But there's the at-large consideration, and we've been on the road a lot, so it would be good to get at least one more home game."

Even the Ivy League, the last of the holdouts against postseason tournaments in basketball, added a lacrosse tournament a season ago. The participants in this year's version are up in the air with two weeks remaining in the regular season. Only third-ranked Cornell is assured of a spot and will earn hosting rights with one more league win.

Meanwhile, the ACC contests the 23rd edition of its tournament this weekend at Duke with mainly bragging rights on the line. Still with only four teams, not enough for an automatic bid, all are likely to earn at-large berths and hope to improve their seeds. The top-seeded Blue Devils, the predetermined hosts, meet Virginia Friday for the second time in six days while North Carolina takes on Maryland.

Copyright © 2010 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Minutemen continue to have success in overtime

Maria Uminski/Collegian

Maria Uminski/Collegian

Overtime is one of the more successful periods for the Massachusetts men's lacrosse team.

The Minutemen are currently riding a two-game winning streak in overtime periods, both of which were capped off with Kyle Smith scoring the winning goal. Between the two victories against Towson and Drexel, UMass has competed in an extra quarter's worth of competition.

"I'd rather win the game in regulation," said UMass coach Greg Cannella. "You go into overtime and the game changes. It's sudden victory and there's a lot of pressure on both teams."

With the Minutemen facing Hofstra on Saturday in the ESPNU Warriors Classic, Cannella said that his team might have ample experience to come out with a victory if the team gets pressured into another overtime thriller.

"We're happy we were able to persevere in the last two and if it comes again, the guys have that experience and that vision of success within those game shows they've done it before," said Cannella. "Again, we'd rather play well and have to play 60 minutes and not play the extra periods."

Historically, UMass has found success in overtime games as it has won seven of its last eight extra-time affairs. After falling 9-8 to Yale in 2004, the team went on a tear to win the next seven of eight, save for its 10-9 overtime loss to Albany back in 2007.

With experience in overtime, Cannella has formed his own strategy for the extra periods, which includes keeping the team composed and not allowing anyone to try and be the hero.

"I always tell the guys, 'Don't change the way you play,'" said Cannella. "You get into those situations and guys feel like they have to be the guy to win it or be the guy that makes the defensive play. When you do that, more so with our game because it is sudden victory, you may end up trying to do too much."

Cannella cited the Minutemen's recent victory against Drexel as an example of how he keeps his team composed. When Anthony Biscardi claimed the ball, all eyes were on him to shoot. Instead, Biscardi dished the ball off to Smith for an attempt. Although Smith's ball was saved, Biscardi still sacrificed personal glory for the sake of the team.

"He didn't change the way he played," said Cannella. "He didn't say, 'I'm going to score this one because I want to be the hero.' You tell the guys, 'Hey, don't try to be the hero, just be yourself and continue to do what you do.'"

Smith eventually found the back of the net against the Dragons, which was his second-consecutive overtime goal. The first came against Towson, as Smith scored with 1:55 left on the clock to push UMass to a 9-8 victory.

Smith is one of three Minutemen that have not only scored a goal in the overtime period, but also have a familiar background to the Maroon and White. Smith is the son of former UMass All-American Norm Smith.

Former UMass player Jim Connolly - son of Steve Connolly, who captained the 1969 undefeated squad - had one of the more memorable overtime goals as he secured a victory over Hofstra in the NCAA Quarterfinals back in 2006. Connolly received a pass from Brett Garber for the goal.

Connolly also notched another overtime goal in 2009 as his blast notched a 7-6 victory over Hobart.

Garber had his own overtime goal in 2007 as he scored on his grandfather's field, but also defeated Penn State in the process. Garber, as his name dictates, is the grandson of UMass legend Richard Garber.

Though it was a non-conference game at the time, the Nittany Lions became a familiar face for the Minutemen when UMass joined the CAA.

"It's a pretty cool thing," said Cannella on the legacy relation. "Those guys will be able to reflect and revel in that stuff after this season and after their careers are over. Especially a guy like Kyle, he's probably not thinking about that right now. Jimmy and Brett, boy, what great memories that is for those guys and their families."

As the Minutemen head into their game on Saturday, practice has gone as usual. Though Cannella said that when players are tired, as they might be after an extra quarter's amount of work in overtime minutes, coaches will ask players whether they're good to compete and practice.

"I think after 22 years, you get to know your team a little bit and have experience with [overtime]," said Cannella. "Naturally guys are going to be warn down and you have to be aware of that. If we think they're struggling, they're sucking wind, we'll back off of them."

Minutemen look to continue winning streak

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

In its final road game of the regular season, the Massachusetts men's lacrosse team heads on the road to East Hartford, Conn. to face Colonial Athletic Association opponent Hofstra in a battle of ranked teams on Saturday.

The No. 15-ranked Minutemen (8-3, 3-1 CAA) will put their three-game winning streak on the line following consecutive overtime victories. UMass' Kyle Smith once again provided the game-winner in an 11-10 victory over Drexel last Saturday in a triple overtime thriller.

Despite trailing 10-6 in the third quarter, UMass formed a late surge in the final frame to send the contest to extra time. The contest marked one of many games this season in which the Minutemen have had to rally out of a deficit to claw out a win, a situation UMass coach Greg Cannella would like to see less of.

"You try to go up-tempo in practice and not have any lulls in practice," said Cannella. "We seem to have those in each game we've played this year. I don't think we've played in a game where we didn't have a lull. So it's kind of continuing to keep the guys aware of that."

Going against a stout team in Hofstra, the Minutemen likely won't have the same leeway that they've had the past two weeks. The No. 8-ranked Pride (11-1, 3-1 CAA) hold the best overall record in the conference and dropped their only game this season at the hands of CAA foe Delaware, which sits atop the CAA with a perfect 4-0 record.

After attempting to contain Drexel's Scott Perri, the leading goal scorer in the conference (30 goals), last week, UMass will have to deal with Hofstra's trio of Jamie Lincoln, Jay Card and Stephen Bentz on Saturday. Lincoln and Card rank behind Perri in the CAA in scoring at No. 2 and No. 3 with 25 and 23 goals, respectively.

"We always talk about limiting guys and not letting guys get off in the game on you, score four or five goals," said Cannella. "I think if you limit those guys, I think you're doing a pretty good job because they're very talented."

On the defensive side of the ball, the Pride have allowed the fewest goals this season of any team in the conference. Boasting a 6.17 goals against average, Hofstra holds nearly a two-goal difference between it and the next best defense in the CAA in Penn State (8.07). In fact, the Pride defense has yet to allow an opponent to reach double digits in scoring in a contest this season, a rare feat in Division I men's lacrosse.

Cannella will look for his offense to change that but outside factors could play a role in UMass' attack.

"We're going to have to play as this game goes," said Cannella. "The weather could be a factor in terms of footing, it's a grass field so is the game fast or is the game slow? How does it turn out?"

In the all-time series between the Minutemen and the Pride, UMass leads 19-16. The Minutemen won the most recent matchup, upsetting then-No. 6 Hofstra, 11-9, at Garber Field on March 27, 2010. UMass was led by Art Kell, who recorded a hat trick, Will Manny, who had a goal and three assists, and Anthony Biscardi, who chipped in a pair of goals.

In 2006, the two teams met in the NCAA Quarterfinal, arguably the most significant game in UMass lacrosse history. The Minutemen dug themselves out of a five-goal hole in the fourth quarter to force overtime, which they claimed to advance to their first-ever NCAA Semifinal.

Saturday's contest is scheduled for a 3 p.m. start at Rentschler Field.

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