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Matt Vautour: UMass’ sacred 43 on display in CAA men’s lacrosse championship

  • No. 43 has long been a sacred number in the UMass lacrosse program. Gazette Staff / Matt Vautour

  • No. 43 has long been a sacred number in the UMass lacrosse program. The players and coaches noted it on the clock for the game’s final timeout. Gazette Staff / Matt Vautour

  • No. 43 has long been a sacred number in the UMass lacrosse program. Gazette Staff / Matt Vautour

  • No. 43 has long been a sacred number in the UMass lacrosse program. Gazette Staff / Matt Vautour

  • The UMass men’s lacrosse team celebrates with its CAA Tournament championship, Saturday at Garber Field. Coach Greg Cannell, center, holds a plaque that was given to him for his 200th career win that came on March 31. THOMAS KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS



@MattVautourDHG
Saturday, May 05, 2018

AMHERST

As he huddled his team around him following Towson’s timeout in the final minute of the CAA Tournament championship, UMass senior Jake Lisauskas turned to coach Greg Cannella to point out how many seconds were left on the Garber Field scoreboard:

43.

The number is sacred to the men’s lacrosse program. It was the jersey number last worn by Eric Sopracasa, the charismatic long-stick midfielder who died in a freak accident during practice.

But it was a particularly sacred number Saturday. Exactly 19 years ago at a practice during the 1999 season, a ball hit Sopracasa in the chest in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong millisecond, stopping the 21-year-old’s heart. He was buried in his UMass 43 jersey.

Cannella has honored his memory every day since. The number 43 sits retired atop Garber Field’s signature hill next to the gate. It’s on a decal on the back of every helmet and on every T-shirt. Every year a UMass player deemed the team’s heart and soul is given the “Eric Sopracasa Award.”

In that huddle, before his final moments of instruction, Cannella pointed to the scoreboard.

“I said, ‘Hold on, look at the clock,’” Cannella said. “(Senior) Shane Rinkus turned to be and said ‘43!’ That was it.”

After the Minutemen finished off the 12-8 victory that earned them a CAA championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, junior goalie Sean Sconone said emotion ran through him.

“Coach said, ‘Look at the clock,’ it’s 43,” said the goalie, who was named the CAA Tournament’s most outstanding player. “I got the chills. I’ve got the chills right now just talking about it.”

Sopracasa, better known as “Soup,” was the type of player who embodied the UMass program: undersized but undeterred, more toughness than talent.

The oldest players on the Minutemen were 3 years old when Sopracasa died, but they all know about him and what he means to the program and Cannella.

“They have to understand the tradition and what’s connected to it,” Cannella said. “It’s our job as coaches to bring that message.”

The clock wasn’t the only cosmic wink to the significance of the day. Isaac Paparo, UMass’ undersized long stick midfielder, is built like Sopracasa and plays with similar scrap. He had a big goal in the midst of UMass’ first quarter surge.

While the time on the clock tied the day’s emotion in an unusually perfect bow, it certainly wasn’t the first time Sopracasa came up on Saturday. The occasion was marked as part of a moment of silence during pregame and Cannella included him in his pregame talk.

“It was an entire team effort,” he said. “We asked them to represent 43.”

They did.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage