By MAT SCHLISSEL
The Tiger men's lacrosse team (7-7) makes a return trip to Amherst, Massachusetts when the Tigers face top-seeded Massachusetts on Wednesday night at 7 pm at Gerber Field in the semi-finals of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.
Not only is UMass
the number one seed in the tournament, but at 13-0 and 6-0 in the CAA, the Minutemen
are the top ranked team in the nation as voted by
the Nike/Inside Lacrossse
Media Poll and in the USILA
Coaches Poll. UMass just completed its first undefeated regular season since 1969 and will earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament field when it is announced on Sunday.
The Tigers finished 2-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association and have struggled lately, losing four straight games. The beginning of their losing streak started on April 7, when they fell at UMass, 14-3. In that game, Towson had cut the lead to 3-2 with 3.9 seconds lef t in the first half on a goal by sophomore Andrew Hodgson (right). But the Minutemen won the face-off and somehow scored with time still left as Kyle Smith scored his 20th of the season from face-off specialist Anthony Toresco.
UMass wound up winning 14 of 19 face-offs in that contest and that helped deliver the 14-3 win. The loss snapped the Tigers' five-game winning streak and they never seemed to recover from that fourth goal. They followed that loss with defeats to Drexel, Penn State and St. Joseph's, scoring just 14 goals in the last four games.
Towson was also outshot in the UMass game 55-24. During their four-game losing streak, they've been outshot 175-96 but junior goaltender Andrew Wascavage has been outstanding, recording 62 saves in that span.
UMass has been dominant in most of its games, defeating Army, Bucknell, Ohio Sate, Brown, Albany and Hartford to open their non-conference schedule. On March 17, the Minutemen opened CAA play with a hard-fought 9-8 overtime win over Penn State on the road.
Then, they won two straight home games, defeating Harvard, 16-8 on March 27, and CAA-foe St. Joseph's, 15-3. After their win over Towson, the Minutemen went on to defeat Drexel, 8-6 and downed Hofstra 14-13 at home before ending the regular season with a 17-6 road win over Delaware on April 27.
This season, UMass shoots 34% compared to just 22% for its opponents. UMass averages 12.9 goals per game and allows just 6.7 goals per game. UMass is outstanding on man-up opportunities, converting 40% and allowing teams to score 26% of the time. They've forced teams to clear the ball 81% of the time but have struggled some, clearing 87% of the time. They also have dominated at the face-off X, winning 58% of the draws.
The Minutemen are led by of the best attackman in the nation in Will Manny (5-9, 160), who leads the team with 39 goals and 26 assists, converting on 57% of his shots. His speed and quickness is tough on defenders and he has 28 ground balls. Senior Art Kell (6-1, 205) was the leading returning scorer from last season with 28 goals and 16 assists and a 35% shot percentage. This season, Kell has 25 goals and 16 assists including five man-up goals. Kell is a good dodger going to the goal but is also an unselfish player. Junior Kyle Smith (6-2, 170) is a strong finisher who has tallied 28 goals along with 13 assists with a 44% shot percentage..
At midfield, junior Colin Fleming (6-6, 215) can play attack or midfield and uses his great size to shoot over small defenders. He adds 19 goals and 7 assists on 71 shots. Senior Anthony Biscardi (5-8, 175) is an explosive dodger and speedster, who has 20 goals and 6 assists on 50 shots. Also in the mix is senior Mike Fetterly (5-10, 155), who has tallied 7 goals and 17 assists.
At the face-off X is Torasco (5-10, 195), a senior who has won 101-of-165 draws (61.2%) and has 55 ground balls. Senior Greg Rushing (5-11, 185) can fill in and has won 38-of-62 draws (61.3%).
Junior Jake Smith (6-0, 190) is the team's top defender, adding 23 ground balls. Senior Tom Celentani (6-4, 210) adds size and leads the team with 17 caused turnovers.
In goal is fifth-year senior Tim McCormack (6-0, 205), who has a sizzling save percentage of 63% and has allowed just 6.55 goals per game.
This is the second time that Towson and UMass have meet in the CAA semi-finals. In 2010, the Tigers trimmed UMass at Unitas Stadium, 13-6.
UMass is seeking its first-ever CAA championship this week. Last year, UMass upset Penn State in the semi-finals but dropped a 9-7 decision to Delaware in the CAA championship game.
The winner will play of the UMass-Towson game will meet the Drexel-Penn State winner on Saturday for the CAA Championship. If UMass wins, the Minutemen will host the CAA finals. If Towson wins, the game will be played at either Drexel or Penn State.
All the Towson-UMass action can be heard live on WNST-AM 1570 with Spiro Morekas and Hunter Lochte calling the action. I'll be blogging at TowsonTigers.com starting at around 6:45 pm.