After No. 3 seed Massachusetts labored to a 9-4 loss to top-seeded Towson in Saturday's Colonial Athletic Association tournament final at Johnny Unitas Stadium, Minutemen coach Greg Cannella had a simple assessment of the Tigers' defensive midfield of long-stick midfielder Tyler Mayes and short-stick defensive midfielders Jack Adams and Zach Goodrich.
"There's none better in the country, in my opinion," Cannella said. "And their close defense has really come along very well. Obviously, [Towson coach] Shawn [Nadelen] and [defensive coordinator] Dan Cocchi have done a great job with those guys. [Junior defenseman Sid Ewell] was real good today, [sophomore defenseman Chad Patterson] was real good. They were a little bit stronger than us there. When you've got two short-sticks who are your best defensive players and I think they showed that because of how they voted for them in the CAAs and both of those guys were All-CAA, that's pretty tough because everybody has a pole. If you go after those short-sticks, those guys are tough to beat. Those guys are both great athletes and tremendous players."
Other teams might beg to differ, but in the CAA, Towson's Rope unit is sturdy. Adams, a senior who lives in Freeland and graduated from Hereford, and Goodrich were named to the conference's first team. And Mayes, a Bel Air resident and Calvert Hall graduate, is the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
Goodrich, who scored once, picked up five ground balls, and caused one turnover in the win against Massachusetts, credited the unit's success to Adams' and Mayes' leadership.
"We always talk to each other if we're on the field or off the field," Goodrich said. "We look up our matchups. It's just one of those things where we communicate to each other. I think that's huge for us."
Senior goalkeeper Matt Hoy, who finished with eight saves, described himself as being "almost spoiled in the net."
"I never see offensive middies having their hands free on shots," he said. "Z, Jack, and Mayes just did an excellent job again today, staying in shooters' hands."
Circling back to "Three Things to Watch" …
1) Faceoffs. Towson sophomore Alex Woodall and Massachusetts junior Noah Rak entered the game ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, in faceoff percentage in Division I. But Rak got off to a strong start, winning four of five draws in the first quarter. Rak's success though did not last as Woodall gained an edge in the final three periods and finished with 8-for-16 on faceoffs and one goal, just six seconds into the fourth quarter. Cannella credited Woodall with adjusting his strategy after the opening frame.
"He changed up a little bit," Cannella said. "He raked us a little bit. He's a real strong clamper, but he raked Noah a couple times when he thought Noah was going to go forward with his rake. A pretty good adjustment for them. Did a real nice job."
2) Offense. After recording only one assist in Thursday's 8-4 win against No. 4 seed Drexel in Thursday's semifinal, Towson senior attackman Ryan Drenner (Westminster) bounced back with two goals and one assist. But the team's six offensive starters accounted for just six goals on 20 shots and three assists. One of the Tigers' goals came from an unexpected source in Massachusetts junior long-stick midfielder Shane Rinkus when he flipped the ball backward to an empty net after senior goalkeeper D.J. Smith had vacated the crease to spark a transition opportunity. Cannella could only shake his head when asked about the own-goal.
"That's hard luck," he said. "We put the ball on the ground, and we get a great ground ball, and he's got two guys on him, and he tries to shovel it back to our goalie, and it goes in the net. That doesn't happen that often. But it happens. It happened today."
3) Penalties. After committing 11 penalties in a 13-12 decision over No. 2 seed Hofstra in another semifinal on Thursday, Massachusetts did not commit a single infraction on Saturday. But the Minutemen could not take advantage with their fastbreak offense that has been one of their staples this spring. They had a few chances in the first quarter, but missed the cage and then Towson made it a priority to get back on defense.
"UMass is extremely successful on transition," Nadelen said. "They get out from the defensive end to the offensive end, and we were only running four, maybe five middies today at times offensively. We told those guys, we have to get back in the hole and we have to defend because they do a terrific job of generating offense in transition. And we did that, and I think that really stalled a lot of their quick hitters. Once we play six-on-six and get the right personnel out there, we feel pretty confident in our defense."