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Matt Whippen leads UMass men’s lacrosse to convincing season-opening win over Army

Powered by a career-high five goals from Whippen and a hat trick by Andrew Sokol—neither of whom scored once last season — the Minutemen (1-0) defeated Army 16-9 at frigid Garber Field. Whippen, who had appeared in only seven games over the previous two seasons, said he enjoyed the new experience of leading his team to victory.

“It’s nothing I’ve ever felt before,” he said. “I’m just really happy. I’m not worried about myself right now, I’m more worried about the first win of the season.”

Eleven goals were contributed by UMass players making their scoring debuts for the team, including two by freshman Dan Muller and another by K.R. Jurgelevich.

Minuteman coach Greg Cannella said he was pleased with the players who scored, especially on a day when returning scoring leaders Will Manny and Kyle Smith were held in check offensively and Colin Fleming was scratched from the lineup due to injury.

“Obviously, it’s very important,” Cannella said. “I kind of talked about that, having those guys get out there and get some real game experience against a really good Army team and seeing some positive things happen. Hopefully, that can give them confidence and also help motivate them to work even harder.”

Whippen said some new players were ready to take on a larger role this season after last year’s disappointing first-round NCAA tournament loss to Colgate.

“We lost a great senior class last year,” he said. “This year is a whole new year, 2013 is not the 2012 season. We needed guys to step it up, we did and we just got to move on from now.”

Another newcomer making his presence felt was freshman goalkeeper Zach Oliveri, who recorded seven saves in his first collegiate start for UMass.

“We’re happy for him because it should give him confidence, and he really has no experience at the collegiate level,” Cannella said. “When you’ve got a guy like that, that can do that for you, hopefully there’s more good to come.”

Oliveri was tested right away by the Black Knights (0-1), as John Glesener, who led Army with three goals, drove home the game’s opening score only six seconds into regulation. After a shaky first quarter, the Minutemen soon settled in and took a 7-5 lead at halftime.

“There’s always gonna be a little bit of adversity, and it’s what (lacrosse) is,” Whippen said of the team’s early struggles. “The winning team is gonna fight through that adversity, just like we did today. We had our ups, we had our downs, but we fought through it and got the win.”

With Oliveri in rhythm and the Black Knights unable to maintain possession on offense, UMass pulled away in the second half behind a pair of goals from Connor Mooney and the continued dominance of Whippen and Sokol.

Manny, Smith and Sean Cleary each also scored a goal, and Tyler Bobby recorded a game-high four assists for the Minutemen.

The loss to Colgate “was a tough way to end the year, but I thought this was a good way to get that sour taste out of our mouth,” Whippen said.

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