March 1, 2012

MD1 Notebook: UMass Starts Hot, Must Finish Strong

by Gary Lambrecht |

Kyle Smith (10 goals in three games) has proven to be a good running mate on UMass' attack. The Minutemen are off to a 3-0 start and ranked sixth in the nation.
© Richard Orr (file)

In 2011, the University of Massachusetts men's lacrosse team went 10-5, but lost the Colonial Athletic Association tournament title game to Delaware, and failed to muster enough RPI and strength-of-schedule points on Selection Sunday. The result was the Minutemen's first 10-win season without an NCAA tournament berth since 2001.

Greg Cannella, the Minutemen's 18th-year coach, makes no apologies for the UMass schedule, which once again does not include a preseason top 5 school. To clear the path to the big tournament, Cannella knows UMass must either win the CAA tournament to gain an automatic bid, or move closer to perfection in its regular season.

So far, the sixth-ranked Minutemen (3-0) are taking care of business. Saturday's impressive, 9-3 victory at Ohio State – which was coming off an upset win over Denver – followed season-opening victories over Army and Bucknell, two teams that figure to be in the thick of the battle in a very competitive Patriot League.

"We hear about the schedule every year. People say we don't play a top 5 team," Cannella said. "What I say is every team on our schedule can beat us."

Keep an eye on the Minutemen, who have the kind of experience and senior leadership that Cannella has worked wonders with on occasion. Think of the senior-laden 2006 team that went all the way to the NCAA championship game.

The pieces are there in Amherst. The defense is packed with dependable parts, such as fifth-year senior goalie Tim McCormack (7.0 goals-allowed average), senior close defensemen Tom Celentani and Greg Anderson and junior defenseman Jake Smith.

Offensively, UMass is still juggling its midfield lines, but the more seasoned attack of senior and three-year starter Art Kell and juniors Will Manny and Kyle Smith is paying large dividends.

Manny already has 12 goals and eight assists, while Smith (10 goals) looks like the breakout finisher he was thought to be. Then, there is junior Colin Fleming, who has five goals on the extra-man unit and scored three against Ohio State.

UMass has found a way to keep its offense humming thus far. The Minutemen have scored at least two goals in 11 of their first 12 quarters in 2012.

Syracuse Sticking With Two Goalies

As No. 3 Syracuse (2-0) prepared to hit the practice field on Wednesday in preparation for its early-season showdown in Charlottesville on Sunday against top-ranked Virginia, Orange assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Lelan Rogers said Syracuse was sticking with its unusual goalie arrangement.

Through Syracuse's first two victories, sophomores Matthew Lerman and Dominic Lamolinara have split time in the cage. Lernan has started against Albany and Army, and each time has yielded the second half to Lamolinara.

The early returns reveal a virtual dead heat statistically. Lerman has allowed seven goals, made 10 saves and produced a .588 save percentage. Lamolinara has allowed nine scores, made 15 saves and has a .625 save percentage.

"It's very unconventional here, but there has been no clear-cut winner [in the goalie competition]. It's a good problem to have," Rogers said. "Both of them are coming to practice every day busting their [butts]. For now, we're probably going to keep splitting time with them."

It will be interesting on Sunday to see what head coach John Desko does, if Lerman has a terrific first half against the Cavaliers, who promise to put the revamped Syracuse defense under much stress with its array of shooters.

The Orange lost the heart of an exceptional defense in 2011, when it bid goodbye to goalie John Galloway, close defenseman John Lade and LSM Joel White. One player who has answered the bell in 2012 is 6-foot, 226-pound junior defenseman Brian Megill, who has caused seven turnovers and has set the tone for a unit that has bullied opposing offenses early on.

"The chemistry is still building. Guys are feeling each other out," Rogers said. "But guys are communicating really well and getting into good position. [Megill] is a beast. And this is a nasty group."

Hopkins' Middies Pressing to Score

At some point, the starting midfield for No. 2 John Hopkins had better start finding the net, since the Blue Jays' unforgiving schedule will demand it. The Blue Jays have done enough to get out to a 3-0 start. Their defense held Towson, Delaware and Siena to a combined average of 5.67 goals per game. Hopkins has been outstanding in the clearing game (.921) and has committed just three fouls.

Then there is the offense, which is absorbing the loss of attackman Chris Boland, who is expected back at some point this month after suffering an apparent collarbone injury during his four-goal performance against Towson in the season opener.

The problem resides squarely with the first line of John Ranagan, Rob Guida and John Greeley, who have combined on a grand total of three goals on 45 shots (6.7 percent). Greeley is has gone scoreless on nine shots, while Ranagan, a reigning first-team All-American, has struggled mightily by shooting 1-for-21.

Junior Lee Coppersmith, the leader of Hopkins' second midfield, has scored more goals (five) than the entire first group. So has Boland, who has not played for nine consecutive quarters.

"We know we're going to have to shoot it better in bigger games," said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, who is looking to Friday's battle at Princeton. "We're taking good shots, but people start to press in those situations. How can you not press? They're upset about it. We're trying to keep things positive. The more you harp on fumbling, the more you fumble."

At least the Blue Jays' attack hasn't dropped the ball. Their top four attackmen – Zach Palmer, Brandon Benn, Wells Stanwick and Boland – have combined to score 18 of the team's 29 goals and have recorded 12 of Hopkins' 17 assists.

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