When a team starts the season unbeaten, there’s a certain magic that only intensifies as the winning continues.
The No. 11 Ohio State men’s lacrosse team will look to continue that magic as it travels to Amherst, Massachusetts, on Saturday to face the University of Massachusetts Minuteman. UMass will attempt to secure its first win after losing 9-5 to Army to open the season.
OSU has met and lost to Umass three times in the past, most recently two years ago when the Minutemen won 12-11 in overtime. It is for this reason OSU coach Nick Myers is not taking this game lightly.
“It’s a team we’ve never beat, and certainly never beat at their place,” Myers said. “I think this is going to be an incredible test for our men, and something we’re looking forward to.”
Redshirt junior midfielder and co-captain Tyler Pfister echoed his coach’s words in respect to the difficulty of the upcoming game.
“We have a lot of respect for UMass. We’ve really dug into film on them (to know) what they can do,” he said.
The Scarlet and Gray will continue to look to attacker J.T. Blubaugh to provide a spark on offense after he scored a career-high four goals in last week’s win against Detroit. Pfister said it was good to see the junior step into a leadership role on the field.
“It’s kind of been a long time coming for him. He’s had good mentors before him,” Pfister said.
Blubaugh was part of an OSU attack that netted 16 goals against Detroit last week. Senior midfielder and co-captain Kacy Kapinos said the key to that was being able to score in a variety of ways.
“(Junior midfielder Jake Withers) is doing a great job on the faceoffs. If we’re winning that many faceoffs we’re giving the ball to the offense a lot,” Kapinos said. “It’s great when we get goals in other ways, like in transition or unsettled.”
Myers applauded the offensive performance against Detroit, but he noted there are still some areas in which it can improve, namely the extra-man opportunity. The coach called it a “concern.”
“We have to get that unit going, and we’ve been working hard at that this week,” Myers said.
It seems like the offense will certainly have to be clicking on all cylinders again. The Minutemen return three seniors starting on defense, including preseason All-Colonial Athletic Association team member Kyle Karaska.
“This is a defense that has traditionally been a top-10 defense, so we’re going to have our work cut out for us to get to 10 (goals),” Myers said.
After such an easy and high-scoring win last week for the Scarlet and Gray, one could expect this game to go down to the wire.
Reliance on defense
OSU comes into this week’s game ranked sixth nationally in team defense, only allowing 6.0 goals per game in the early season. The Buckeyes also rank in the top seven nationally with 10.5 caused turnovers per contest.
A big part of the defense’s early-season success has been redshirt junior goalie Tom Carey, who ranks seventh nationally with a .556 save percentage.
Myers said the defense, and the experience that comes on that side of the ball, is something the team will lean on early in the season.
“We need to really rely on them to get us the key stops that we need in critical moments,” he said. “Through two games, we feel like we’ve done some really positive things there, but there’s still room for growth.”
Kapinos said the defense has been gaining trust with one another, and he contributed that to the early-season success.
“If I’m leaving, I know that my guy has my back,” he said. “I think we’re doing a really good job of recognizing that and really growing together, and hopefully we can continue this momentum.”
After their game in Massachusetts, the Buckeyes are set to travel back home to face University of Maryland, Baltimore County on Feb. 26 in their first game of the season at Ohio Stadium. The game is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.