Sconone, Paparo Give UMass an Edge on Defensive End

PHOTO COURTESY OF UMASS ATHLETICS

Two-time captain and honorable mention All-American Isaac Paparo provides a security blanket for the staunch UMass defense.


US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 2. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on uslaxmagazine.com through the end of the month and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition in February.

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No. 16 UMass

2018 Record: 12-5 (5-0 CAA)
Coach: Greg Cannella (25th year)
All-Time Record: 545-303-3
NCAA Appearances: 20
Final Fours: 1
Championships: 0

From the outside looking in, Massachusetts’ defense seemed good enough during conference play to simplify things for the team’s offense. Get to 10 goals, and things will be good to go.

Coach Greg Cannella, though, might beg to differ.

“I don’t think anybody felt comfortable at any point in any game,” he said.

Still, the Minutemen went 9-0 when holding opponents to single digits, and there’s two major parts of that equation back for another run at making the NCAA tournament.

One is goalie Sean Sconone, who didn’t even play in four games last year before reclaiming his job in April and helping to stifle the rest of the Colonial Athletic Association.

“I’m sure he was pissed at us and maybe pissed at himself,” Cannella said. “He got another opportunity, and he’s a very talented guy. He was a little more calm, and as a group we were a little more settled in to who we were at that point. He was very composed and very confident, which we’ll need from him throughout this next season.”

While Sconone is the backstop, Massachusetts has a great security blanket in front of him as well. An honorable-mention All-American, Isaac Paparo was only the third junior to be named a captain during Cannella’s tenure and returns for an encore of a dominant season as a senior.

The 5-foot-7, 170-pounder might not be the most physically imposing defenseman, but he is a willful and skillful player who was Israel’s team MVP en route to a seventh-place finish in last year’s world championship.

“He’s a very self-motivated guy,” Cannella said. “He’s always played with an attitude that he’s going to try to beat you regardless of who you are and what he’s supposed to be.”

There’s some more continuity on the Minutemen defense. Junior Jackson Suboch was a first-year starter last season and should again be a reliable source of energy. UMass gets long-stick midfielder Mike Elcock back from a knee injury that cost him the final seven games last season, and Dan O’Brien will factor in at pole as well.

There are still a few spots to be secured, but it has the makings of another stellar defense in Amherst.

“I think they can use their experience, but they have to create their own identity moving forward,” Cannella said.






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The Case For UMass

A team doesn’t go on an 11-game winning streak like the Minutemen did last year without doing a lot of things well. And of the 15 categories the NCAA tracks, UMass was in the top half of all of them except turnovers per game last season. Yes, there were a couple notable graduation losses. And no, a great spring in 2018 doesn’t guarantee another one. But most of the same pieces are in place, and the Minutemen’s formula for flustering their conference foes is likely to remain useful into this season.

The Case Against UMass

The Minutemen have a vacancy at the X, where Noah Rak won 59.3 percent of his draws last year and ranked eighth in the country with 8.12 ground balls per game. “Can you produce at the same level?” Cannella asked. “We’re challenging Tom Meyers and Tyler Green to do so. Tommy’s been with us the last three years. This is his shot to be the guy.” Meyers has won 46.8 percent of his draws and was just 24 of 59 last year. Green is a redshirt sophomore who became his career at Saint Joseph’s and is likely to play a role for the Minutemen.

Path to the Playoffs

The Minutemen should have a pretty good idea by the first week of March whether they can harbor realistic at-large dreams. There are opportunities to snag impressive victories in nonconference play against the likes of Ohio State (Feb. 16), Yale (March 2) and Albany (March 5). Without at least one of those, Massachusetts’ margin for error will be slim unless it wins the CAA tournament for the second year in a row.

Players To Watch

Chris Connolly, A, So.
25 G, 25 A

Connolly made quite a splash as a freshman, earning the CAA Rookie of the Year award for his efforts. With the graduation of Buddy Carr (39g, 25a), more will be expected of both Connolly and junior Devin Spencer (19 G) as the Minutemen’s offense evolves.

Isaac Paparo, D, Sr.
45 GB, 23 CT

The defending CAA Player of the Year, Paparo will anchor a close defense unit that flummoxed an entire conference last season. “When your best players are your hardest workers, it helps your team a ton because he sets the right example each and every day,” Cannella said.

Jeff Trainor, M, Jr.
28 G, 22 A

UMass’ first 50-point midfielder since Tim Soudan in 1990, Trainor easily segued from the second midfield line to the top unit as a freshman. He’ll draw even more attention this season after delivering 15 multi-point showings in 2018.

National Rankings

Category

Rank

Value

Offense 15th 11.59 GPG
Defense 31st 10.00 GAA
Faceoffs 14th 56.7 FO%
Ground Balls 25th 28.88/game
Caused TO 13th 7.94/game
Shooting 26th 30.9%
Man-Up 30th 36.1%
Man-Down 27th 68.3%
Assists 6th 7.65/game
Turnovers 44th 13.59/game
Clearing 25th 88.7%

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)

Offense
⭐⭐⭐

Defense
⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goalkeeping
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Faceoff
⭐⭐

72.6

Goalie Sean Sconone saved 72.6 percent of the shots he saw in UMass’ last six games — all victories — prior to the NCAA tournament in 2018.

5-Year Trend
Shooting Percentage

Year

Rank

Pct

2014 43rd 26.6
2015 23rd 29.6
2016 50th 26.2
2017 56th 25.5
2018 26th 30.9

Coach Confidential
Greg Cannella

“Our guys have worked hard. We may have been a little more talented than we were a few years back, but if our guys don’t work hard, it doesn’t matter how talented they are.”

Enemy Lines

“Their style fits the new rules.”

““They know who they are and how they want to play. They also return seven starters.”

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