March 4, 2011

NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Notebook: UMass Finds Wins Come with Health, Balance

by Gary Lambrecht |

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."

Syracuse works T. Palasek into mix

Considering that he's only been on the Syracuse campus since January 10, Orange junior attackman Tommy Palasek, who transferred from Johns Hopkins, is holding his own.

Palasek, who is still gaining a grasp of the Syracuse offense and has produced two assists without a goal in the Orange's first two victories, has shown enough dodging and passing ability to get on the field, usually as a fourth attackman. Syracuse coach John Desko also has experimented with Palasek in the first group, while moving spark plug JoJo Marasco (team-high nine points) to midfield.

I've got a hunch Palasek will get on the scoreboard Friday night at the Carrier Dome, where second-ranked Virginia renews the regular-season series with the top-ranked Orange for the 18th consecutive time.

"[Palasek] has very good vision. He knows where everybody is on the field, which is pretty good, considering he's only been here with us for a couple of months," Desko said. "He gives us another good dodger and feeder."

Palasek dismissed the notion that a sour relationship with Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala drove him out of Homewood.

"It was a bunch of factors – lacrosse, the school, socially – that had a part in how the overall fit wasn't there," Palasek said. "I do like the freedom to create more with the other guys on offense [at Syracuse].

"We had our differences, but for the most part I didn't butt heads with Coach [Pietramala]. Obviously, he would critique me in his own style, and we'll leave it at that. I've had my share of football and lacrosse coaches yelling at me, so that wasn't anything new."

Holmes draws from pedigree

Maryland sophomore midfielder Curtis Holmes has spent much time in the shadow of his brothers. First, there was Travis, a hard-nosed, defensive midfielder with the Terps from 2004-2007. Then came Bryn, another short-stick midfielder who made his name by winning 55 percent of his draws as Maryland's primary faceoff specialist in 2009 and 2010.

Welcome to the club again, Curtis. Maryland (2-0) heads down to Duke on Saturday, fresh off a 20-8 spanking of Georgetown, in large part due to the last of the Holmes brothers. Curtis won 20 of 31 draws and scored one goal with two assists against the Hoyas. He has won 37 of 52 faceoff attempts (71.2 percent) in 2011.

"I switched numbers so I could keep 17 in the family. I'm always been in their shadows. I just have to prove myself again," Curtis said. "I was the scout guy last year, trying to give Bryn the best look at his opponent every week. I feel like he made me better, and I made him better. Now, I have to do enough so people know me as Curtis, not just Bryn's or Travis' brother."

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