Seeing Maroon: Is spring in the air?

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Published: 2/15/2021 8:40:40 PM

With all UMass sports still on pause for at least another week, it’s a good time to look ahead to the upcoming spring season.

This year’s spring season will be like none other, as fall sports, outside of football, like soccer and field hockey have been moved to the spring similar to the Fall II season running across high school sports in Massachusetts.

For normal spring athletes like lacrosse, baseball and softball players, last year was stopped just when the season was beginning to ramp up. The stop due to the pandemic came at an unfortunate time for the UMass lacrosse programs in particular.

The men’s lacrosse team — which has quietly been one of, if not the most, consistently successful program at UMass since the turn of the century — was off to yet another strong start in non-conference play before the pandemic hit. The Minutemen always load up their non-conference schedule and last year was no different, as three of the seven games they managed to get in were against ranked opponents, with another against an always challenging Harvard squad.

UMass fared well, going 5-2 to start the season with wins over No. 12 Ohio State and a massive 13-10 win over Yale at Garber Field. The Bulldogs were the No. 1 ranked team in the country at the time of the victory.

With the season being cut short, all players were given an extra year of eligibility and the Minutemen took advantage of it. Six of the seven seniors from last year’s class utilized that extra year and returned to campus for another season with UMass, while coach Greg Cannella brought in 14 freshmen to make up a roster that is massive in both numbers and talent.

The Minutemen enter the season ranked No. 14 nationally, and were tabbed as Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA) preseason favorites, though Towson received 22 points in voting to UMass’ 23 so expect a fierce battle between the two teams for conference supremacy.

The preseason All-CAA team featured three Minutemen — Chris Connolly, Jeff Trainor and Sam Eisenstadt. Connolly led the team in points a season ago while Trainor was one of the players to return for an extra year, having made the All-CAA team his sophomore and junior year and was on track to make it again before last season was cut short. Eisenstadt is a big, 6-foot-3 senior defenseman who was second team All-CAA his sophomore year.

Between that trio, and a plethora of other talented players on the roster, UMass has plans to bring home another conference title, while also looking to pick up another NCAA Tournament berth.

On the women’s lacrosse side, the Minutewomen, too, have their sights set on a conference title.

Picked to finish second in the Atlantic-10 and ranked No. 19 overall nationally by US Lax Magazine, UMass should be a force again this season. When the season came to an abrupt close a season ago, the Minutewomen were ranked No. 11 in the country with a 4-1 record that included wins against No. 5 Boston College and No. 22 Dartmouth.

Much of UMass’ early season success came from its potent offense, with leading scorers Kaitlyn Cerasi and Haley Connaughton returning after each racking up 24 points in five games a season ago. Stephanie Croke, Emma Dotsikas and Olivia Muscella also return, all three finishing last season with double-digit points.

Caitlyn Petro was named by Inside Lacrosse Preseason All-American as a faceoff specialist after leading the nation in draw controls per game in 2020, winning 11.2 draws per contest.

With talented rosters returning, and both teams nationally ranked, it’s time to start paying attention to two of the best at UMass that nobody talks much about.

■ Boston College parted ways with men’s basketball coach Jim Christian on Monday, who had a putrid 26-94 record in the ACC and no NCAA Tournament appearances in seven seasons at Chestnut Hill. It may open the door for the Minutemen and Eagles to begin playing each other again

The last time the two programs faced off was the 2014-15 season, one in which UMass came out victorious for the second straight year. Since then, BC has avoided putting the Minutemen on their schedule despite the two schools being natural rivals.

Here’s to hoping the Eagles, with a new athletic director and soon a new head coach, begin scheduling a yearly game between the two schools as there’s nothing better than a cross-state rivalry. Commonwealth Classic, redux?

Thomas Johnston is a Recorder sports reporter and UMass alum. He can be reached at tjohnston@recorder.com




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