(Photo Courtesy of UMass Athletics)
This past year has been quite a rough one for Greg Cannella and the UMass Minutemen. Their 2021 campaign began with multiple pauses due to COVID-19 protocols, which led to five games being outright cancelled and one (UAlbany) being pushed back. And once the Minutemen got on the field, an arduous CAA-heavy schedule awaited them.
UMass looked strong in wins over Fairfield and Drexel to start the season. However, the Minutemen would only come out on top twice more, beating Hofstra and Fairfield in late March and late April. They suffered three straight losses in the middle of the season against Drexel, Hofstra, and Towson. A loss to Delaware ended the Minutemen’s regular season and a loss to Drexel in the CAA quarterfinals was the final nail in the coffin on UMass’ 2021 campaign.
And this was a team coming into the season that was ranked amongst the top-15 and whom many had high expectations for, not only within the CAA but nationally.
Going 4-6 (4-4 CAA), it was the worst season for UMass since 2016 and only the third losing season for the program since joining the CAA and just the sixth losing season during Cannella’s 27 years at the helm.
Following such a rough season, the Minutemen saw both of their assistant coaches leave. Alum and 13-year offensive coordinator Doc Schneider parted ways with his alma mater as a result of a career change and eight-year defensive coordinator Craig McDonald was just recently hired as the next head coach at Robert Morris, joining Yale’s Andy Shay and Providence’s Chris Gabrielli as the third former Cannella assistant among active DI head coaches.
UMass has certainly borne much more than a number of programs this past calendar year, from enduring such a rough season to the significant losses this coaching staff has endured over the offseason. And while things haven’t looked all that great in Amherst lately, this UMass program is still led by one of the longest-tenured and most well-respected head coaches in college lacrosse, and features one of the most talented rosters, top to bottom, in the CAA and amongst mid-majors, in general.
Coming into 2022, UMass will be looking to bounce back after failing to meet expectations last season. And if they are able to put all the puzzle pieces back together, the Minutemen should be able to get back to the top of the CAA and return to the NCAA Tournament.
The defensive end of the field is where the Minutemen have made their mark, both historically and in recent years. And that trend held true in 2021 with UMass trotting out a defense week in and week out that ended the season ranked third in the conference in scoring defense (29th nationally), allowing 10.8 goals per game. They were also second in the conference and 29th in DI in caused turnovers per game (7.80), and second in the CAA, and 24th nationally in ground balls per game (32.30).
In 2022, those numbers should, at least, stay steady and could very well increase with as much talent this unit brings back. A pair of full-time starters in senior Adam Towey (15GB/8CT) and Sam Eisenstadt (25GB/7CT), who comes back for a fifth season, return to lead the way at close defense. UMass also returns a talented pair of junior LSMs in Jake Dulac (16GB/5CT), who started one game at close last season, and Ryan Fitzpatrick (12GB/7CT).
Matthew Hill and Matt Caddigan return as the Minutemen’s top two SSDMs and should provide even more talent and production to that rope unit once again this spring. The two combined for 16 ground balls and seven caused turnovers last season.
In between the pipes is arguably the biggest returner for this Minutemen squad, period. Matt Knote came onto the college lacrosse scene in style, starting and dominating as a freshman. He continued his impressive play this past season, making 125 saves with a .536% save percentage. Knote ranked second in the conference in both save percentage and saves per game (12.50).
Know a junior, Knote is not only full of raw talent but live game experience. He has shown he can be one of the top goalies in the CAA and college lacrosse, in general, and having him back to anchor this defense, which only loses one starter in Jackson Suboch, is massive and should only lead to similar results as we’ve seen from this unit in recent years.
UMass will also see a major impact player return at the faceoff dot with junior Zach Hochman. Similarly, Hochman made much noise as the top option at the dot for the Minutemen as a freshman and continued that success as a sophomore this past spring, going 114-214 (.533%) at the dot and adding five goals and one assist (six points). Hochman is expected to continue his high-level of a play as a junior this spring, which will likely allow this Minutemen offense to get a possession advantage.
On offense, UMass could certainly use every possession they can get with as much talent, as well as room for growth, this unit has coming into the 2022 season. The Minutemen return three of their top-five point-getters from a year ago in fifth-year midfielder Kevin Tobin (15G/16A), senior attackman Gabriel Procyk (21G/4A), and sophomore attackman Dillon Arrant (20G/3A).
Additionally, Mike Tobin (5G/6A), who was the team’s top reserve midfielder last season, and fifth-year attackman Chris Connolly will be back. Connolly, who has been a starter since his freshman season, suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of the 2021 season and will be a huge asset to have back at full health this fall for the Minutemen. He was the team’s leading scorer in both 2019 and 2020 and was the third-leading scorer in 2018 as a freshman.
Following a season in which UMass was a bottom-three team offensively in the CAA in almost every category, with the exception of assists per game (7.30) and man-up offense, where they cashed in on .417% of their opportunities, this unit could very well take a sizable step forward. Not only is there veteran experience and talent on the offensive end of the field, but also a good mix of young talent as well.