The men’s lacrosse team may have seven games against ranked opponents this season, but right now they are only focused on one of them.

Saturday in Amherst, the Bulldogs open their 2005 season against No. 14 Massachusetts, marking the first time in eight years that the Elis have begun their season against a ranked opponent. Besides the Minutemen, the Bulldogs have teams like No. 3 Princeton and No. 10 Cornell to look forward to later in the spring.

Despite this, or maybe because of it, head coach Andy Shay prefers to focus on one game at a time. The second-year skipper has been working to get the Elis ready for a fierce and speedy Minutemen attack. Even though the Minutemen pose a significant threat when they have the ball in Yale’s zone, the Bulldogs are looking to counter with some goals of their own.

Shay said their strength of the schedule, which the website ranked fourth in Div. I, helps the Bulldogs.

“I think we try and play the best teams we can,” Shay said. “The [Ivy] League is one of the strongest in the country and where we are right now we probably need to play as many good teams as we can.”

The Minutemen certainly qualify as a good team. Besides defending their ranking, the Minutemen will have added motivation to beat the Elis after they lost in New Haven 9-8 to the Bulldogs last year. But Seth Goldberg ’05, a preseason All-American, said the Bulldogs have their own reasons to win, especially the seniors who want to make it three times out of their four years that the Bulldogs have emerged victorious over UMass.

“Everyone is finally ready and extremely excited,” Goldberg said. “They are a very solid team and it will be a great test for us. It’s definitely a tough game to open up with, but we are up for the challenge.”

Goldberg’s offensive talents will be crucial to the Bulldogs success. The veteran attackman tallied 32 goals and 40 points last year.

“He’s the kind of kid that any time he gets his hands on the ball, he catches it for one, and if he’s near the cage he hits it,” Shay said. “He has a very good knack for putting it away. If he gets a decent shot he typically puts it in. We need him to replicate exactly his season last year or even a little more.”

One issue for the Bulldogs as well as their opponents is adapting to three rule changes. Among the new rules is that a timeout can only be called by an attackman who is in the attack zone. Another stipulates that the sticks of the players taking face-offs have to be outside of a four-inch line around the ball. The one that most affects the Bulldogs, according to Shay, is that defensemen now have 20 seconds to clear it beyond midfield instead of 10 seconds to get it over the restraining line.

“It’s horrible for us because we like to ride,” Shay said. “Now its far easier to clear the ball, and teams that wanted it and gained an advantage by hustling can’t do that anymore. It’s a rich get richer type of thing.”

The new face-off rule could also affect the Bulldogs, especially this weekend, as they focus on possessing the ball. Shay said the new rule could favor laxers with better skills and speed on face-offs, such as midfielder Dan Kallaugher ’06. Although Kallaugher recently came back from a knee injury that prevented him from playing most of last spring, he said he has been working on facing off in the scrimmages the team has had recently and is excited about taking face-offs this weekend.

“In the scrimmage last week, different refs were telling me different things, but once the refs get used to [the new rule], it should not affect me very much, I hope,” Kallaugher said. “I use different moves and I am pretty quick, that’s how I win them.”

Kallaugher will be teaming up with midfielder James Rump ’07 to take face-offs. Shay described Rump as more of a power player on the face-offs.

But new rules will not be the only difficulty when the Bulldogs take the field Saturday. Shay said the speedy Minutemen will play man-to-man defense instead of sliding. On the other side of the field, they will be counting on Sean Morris and Jeff Zywicki for points. In UMass’ 12-7 win over Hofstra, Morris finished with four goals and one assist while Zywicki had three goals and two assists.

Another issue the Elis have to deal with is who is starting in goal this weekend. Because last year’s starter, Jordan Ellis ’07, has been recovering from back surgery, the position has remained open to George Carafides ’08 and David Wright ’06. Shay said all three goalies have been practicing well, and the starting job may well be decided at the end of today’s practice.

After the game this weekend, the Bulldogs return to New Haven to face Quinnipiac on Tuesday before traveling to Florida to train in the nice weather and compete against Fairfield near the end of the training trip. While the Elis are looking forward to leaving behind blustery Connecticut for warmer climes, Goldberg stressed the team’s goal is to focus on only one game at a time.

“Keeping that focus is most important for us,” Goldberg said. “It’s way too early to talk about Ivy play or standings. We are specifically focused about each specific game, and if we do that we will be better prepared for each game. As Coach Shay stressed, we really don’t like making predictions.”

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