Close calls generate maturity for UMass

PHILADELPHIA -- The Virginia Cavaliers have been rolling toward this moment from Day One of the 2006 season, while Massachusetts has taken the circuitous route to its first final four, and ultimately, its first NCAA championship game.

And after the Minutemen, the first unseeded team to reach the title game since Maryland in 1997, dropped No. 6 seed Cornell, No. 3 Hofstra and No. 2 Maryland to get here, it raised a question.


How did UMass (13-4) stumble so often during the regular season, after beginning it with an 11-7 win against Hofstra? Among the Minutemen's four losses are a 9-8 defeat by Albany and a 7-5 setback by Penn State - two teams that didn't even make the tournament. Then, there was the come-from-behind 7-6 win over unranked Fairfield on April 25.

A loss to Fairfield could have severely damaged the Minutemen's tournament hopes, just as a loss to Fairfield certainly hurt Loyola's postseason chances. But UMass came up with three goals in a 29-second span in the fourth quarter to avert disaster.


Freshman goalie Doc Schneider attributed some of the struggles to young players like himself. UMass starts two sophomores and two freshmen.

"We have some young parts, and we met a couple of hot goalies," Schneider said. "We followed our senior leadership, we grew and we learned a lot from our wins and losses."

Added senior attackman Sean Morris: "It's taken a while for some guys to mature. I think it comes down to confidence."

In the hot seat

The heat and humidity took a toll on UMass senior faceoff man Jake Deane in Saturday's win over Maryland. Deane, who won eight of 16 faceoffs, but also contributed a goal in the 8-5 win, did what is nearly unthinkable for a guy with his boundless energy.

He asked to come out of the game for a faceoff breather. But, only after grabbing a ground ball in traffic and starting a sequence that resulted in a huge goal that made it 7-4 with 11:52 left in the game.

"I've been hydrating all day, and I'm going to have to do it again [today]," Deane said yesterday. "It's going to be hot and humid again. But, as a faceoff guy, you just have to dig down and keep going."

Cavs not cavalier


Virginia senior defensive midfielder J.J. Morrissey, who has grabbed more than 50 ground balls for three straight years and is one of the key reasons the Cavaliers control the middle of the field consistently, ruled out any chance that Virginia would relax against the upstart Minutemen.

"We haven't lost this year, and mainly it's because we've never taken an opponent lightly," Morrissey said. "We wouldn't take [UMass] for granted or think that we're better because we're undefeated or we're the No. 1 seed. That has never been a big part of our preparation."