UMass finds momentum heading into CAA men’s lacrosse semifinal
AMHERST — All season long, University of Massachusetts men’s lacrosse coach Greg Cannella thought his team was better than it was playing.
“I’ve been asking the guys all year, ‘What are you waiting for?’ In the fall, in the preseason. In the middle of the season,” he said. “Hopefully I don’t have to ask that question anymore.”
The Minutemen (7-7) didn’t click until April, but they won their last two games of the regular season to barely get into the CAA tournament as the No. 4 seed. They’ll play No. 1 seed Penn State, today at 3 p.m. at State College, Pa.
No. 2 Drexel and No. 3 Towson meet at 5 p.m. today in the other semifinal at Penn State. The winners play Friday at 3 p.m. at State College.
During the last two wins, UMass looked a lot more like the team that was predicted to win the CAA in the preseason, giving the Minutemen confidence as they head to postseason. If UMass lost either of its last two games, its season would be over.
Cannella liked the way his team handled must-win scenarios.
“I don’t think going to the edge of the cliff and looking over has ever hurt any of us,” Cannella said. “The fact they were able to play well over the past three weeks shows their character and their perseverance. ... There was a sense of urgency that we would have liked to have earlier. I like the attitude and the energy that they’re bringing right now.”
Senior defenseman Ryan Hollenbaugh said reaching the postseason has pulled the team together.
“We’re lucky enough to have a second chance. We have a sense of revival and we’re ready to play,” he said. “We’re hungry. We’re hunting. We love the underdog role. We really embrace that. We’re ready to take it to the teams that beat us earlier in the year.”
Senior attackman Will Manny, last year’s CAA Offensive Player of the Year, was hampered by an early season thumb injury. His resurgence has helped stimulate the team as well.
“I’m playing with much more confidence and I feel like I’m back to my old self,” Manny said. “From the Monday of the Hostra week, we’ve been playing like it’s playoff time already. We got to where we need to be. It’s a new season now. We’re 0-0. We know why we lost the game last time. Our defense played great and we shot the ball miserably. We’re not going to let that happen again.”
Manny’s referring to UMass’ 7-5 loss to Penn State in Amherst on March 16. The Nittany Lions opened the year 2-3 and the win over UMass launched a nine-game winning streak capped by Saturday’s 16-7 win over Hofstra. PSU (11-3) is ranked No. 9 in the country.
Penn State allows a league-best 7.16 goals per game. Goalie Austin Kaut’s 6.95 GAA and .629 save percentage are both tops in the league.
T.J. Sanders leads the league with 2.64 goals per game, while teammate Jack Forster isn’t far behind at 2.57
The game will feature the league’s top two faceoff squads. UMass has won 57.3 percent of the draw, while the Lions have won 55.4.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.