Saturday, February 22, 2014
University of Massachusetts men’s lacrosse coach Greg Cannella admitted he was curious to see how his team plays when it opens the season against Army, Saturday at 11 a.m. at Michie Stadium, in West Point, N.Y.
“We’re looking all right. We’ll find out a little bit more (Saturday). When adversity hits, you find out what they’re all about,” Cannella said. “They’ve been a good group to coach so far. They’ve worked hard. We’ve prodded them to work even harder and challenge themselves.”
The Minutemen will be playing a lot of new faces, while some of the returning players will be in significantly increased rolls.
“The younger guys know if we’re asking them to play, it’s a great opportunity and they better work hard,” said Cannella, whose team finished 7-8 last year. “They want to support the older guys as well.”
The biggest question will be at attack where Will Manny, the program’s No. 5 all-time leading scorer, and Kyle Smith both graduated. The duo combined for 226 points over the past four seasons. Two freshmen will replace them alongside junior Grant Whiteway. California native Grant Consoletti was a high school All-American a year ago after scoring 120 career goals. New York native Nick Mariano was the No. 34-rated high school player in the nation, according to Inside Lacrosse magazine. He had 176 goals and 92 assists in four seasons at Yorktown High School.
“(Scoring) is the question,” Cannella said. “It’s a total different look on offense. We have a lot of question marks. We hope that some of the younger guys can play comfortable and play confident.”
In the offensive midfield, senior Connor Mooney and Matt Whippen could be asked to carry some of the early offensive load. Freshman Jeff George, last year’s New Jersey High School Player of the Year, will get a chance to make an impact right away as well.
Junior Ryan Izzo, an All-Colonial Athletic Association second team selection last year, leads the midfield.
UMass have experience in two significant spots. Junior midfielder Joe Cavello led the CAA last year in faceoff percentage (58.2), while sophomore goalie Zach Oliveri registered an 8.63 goals against average.
“Whenever you have a young team, if you have a guy back there that saves at a high percentage, it obviously helps you stay in games that you might be overmatched in and it will help you stay relaxed on offense,” Cannella said. “Zach is going to have to be big for us throughout the year.”
Oliveri lost a lot of experience in front of him as well. Freshman Aaron Madaisky, who might be the tallest player in program history at 6-foot-7, is expected to start alongside senior James Fahey and sophomore Kyle Karaska.
UMass was picked fourth in the CAA preseason poll and weren’t ranked nationally. Penn State, which was ranked first in the CAA poll and seventh nationally, isn’t eligible to play in the CAA tournament because the Nittany Lions are leaving for the newly formed Big Ten lacrosse league next year.
UMass’ schedule features three ranked teams. In addition to Penn State (March. 15 at State College, Pa.), the Minutemen face No. 9 Ohio State (Feb. 16 at the Moe’s Southwest Grill Classic, in Jacksonville, Fla.) and No. 11 Albany (March 8, Garber Field).
Their home opener is Feb. 22 against Harvard at 1 p.m.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage