October 20, 2013

Minutemen battle the British in fall ball scrimmage

by Arielle Aronson | LaxMagazine.com

Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Zach Oliveri played the first half against England, allowing just two goals.
© Cecil Copeland

When the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Minutemen took the field at Derryfield School in New Hampshire for a fall ball scrimmage Sunday, they faced a unique opponent. The Minutemen's scrimmage put them up against England's national men's lacrosse team, as the British set out on a week-long New England invasion to gain experience against some of the region's top Division I NCAA squads.

UMass bested the British on Sunday by a 14-6 margin, and as the score suggests, the British style of play was anything but foreign for the Minutemen.

"You watch people play out there and they look like our guys, and then you hear them talk and you notice they're from England," said UMass coach Greg Cannella. "It's different, but not in the play at all."

The Minutemen controlled play early, jumping out to a 3-0 lead after the first quarter, but struggled with some sloppy mistakes early in the second quarter. England recorded its first goal with 16:34 remaining in the half after extended pressure on its attacking end, and a UMass penalty lead to another England goal with five minutes left in the half.

The second England goal seemed to wake the Minutemen up, as the attack, led by junior Grant Whiteway, scored quickly after the British tally and then struck again with seconds left in the half to take a 7-2 lead into halftime.

Whiteway, the only returning starter on attack for the Minutemen, dominated the UMass scoresheet all afternoon, but Canella said he would like to see more contributions from the players surrounding Whiteway by the time the season starts.

"We're still looking for greater leadership on the offensive side," Cannella said. "Overall, we're happy with the effort and the enthusiasm. We just have to work on the execution a little bit more."

The Minutemen will likely look to senior attackman Connor Mooney for leadership, and freshman Nick Mariano's play Sunday showed he also might be able to hold pace on attack with Whiteway to compliment the junior's scoring.

UMass looked strong on defense until the last few minutes of the scrimmage, when England scored three goals in under four minutes, but the Minutemen largely kept England away from the front of the net with strong positioning and smart physical play. Redshirt sophomore goalie Zach Oliveri played the first half and allowed two goals while senior goalie Reed Goodhue (one goal against) and freshman D.J. Smith (three goals against) split time in the second half.

While Cannella emphasized that the Minutemen have plenty to work on before the season starts in February, England coach Matt Bagley said he was very impressed by the level of play on the field.

"It's amazing. The speed and the talent that these Division I athletes have is just incredible," Bagley said. "You can't replicate that anywhere else but here, so it's phenomenal to be here."

Bagley is also evaluating his squad, but instead of whipping them into shape for an upcoming collegiate season, Bagley is looking to select players for the national team's final roster to represent England in the 2014 World Championships in Denver.

England's scrimmage Sunday was its second of the American trip, but Bagley's players are still trying to adjust to the time difference after flying in Friday evening. The British looked sluggish at times on the field Sunday, especially in the fourth quarter when UMass scored three times in less than two minutes.

"The wheels fell off the bus a few times," Bagley said. "You could tell that the energy level dipped down, but we kept fighting, which was nice."

Despite the loss, Bagley said the scrimmage was both an enjoyable and memorable game for his squad, which, despite boasting players significantly older than those in the UMass lineup, looks to American college players as role models.

"It's all we get, American lacrosse," Bagley said. "We get it on the television, in the magazines, all of that, so there's definitely a bit of a star-struck thing and 'Oh my gosh, we're playing UMass and I watched them play the other day on ESPN America' type of thing. It's a great honor to be here and to play these guys."

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