A win is a win is a win.
The No. 4-ranked Syracuse men’s lacrosse team owns a 12-1 record—the only blemish an 11-6 setback to Cornell on April 12. Sounds good, except the Orange have been criticized because seven of those wins were by two goals or less.
The close calls are slightly concerning, but they’re not surprising.
We knew coming into the season Syracuse wasn’t likely to blow its elite opponents out with a high-octane offense. We also knew the Orange would rely heavily on its defense, which boasts three preseason first-team All-America seniors: goalie John Galloway, close defender John Lade and long-stick midfielder Joel White.
The Orange has survived—with only one loss thus far—the toughest schedule in the nation thanks to that defense. It will keep the team in most of its games the rest of the way.
Coach John Desko thinks opponents have had their best games against the Orange. He’s probably right. Syracuse shouldn’t apologize for its 11 NCAA championships and its status as perennial contender, but it will always have a target on its back. Teams strive to beat the best.
“I’ve watched a lot of game film on our opponents, and most times, I see a different team when we play them than what I see on film,” Desko said when asked recently about all the close games. “I think people have raised their level of play when they come to play us. “
Throughout the course of the season, Syracuse’s opponents have attempted various tactics to thwart the attack and earn wins. The Orange has faced zone defenses, slow-down offenses and more. You can bet the team will see those same tactics again in the tournament.
“Everybody has come in with either a good faceoff guy or has played zone defense for most of the game or stalled the ball,” Desko said. “We’ve been able to roll up our sleeves and beat all these good opponents. … We’ve played a lot of good games and come out ahead. I think that speaks to the character of the group.”
Make no mistake. Syracuse is just as capable of winning the NCAA championship over Memorial Day weekend now as it was when the season started. In fact, it’s better this way.
I’d be more concerned if the team cruised through its schedule without any challenges. Syracuse is stronger and more resilient because of those close calls.
Last year, Syracuse lost one game in the regular season. Virginia beat the Orange 11-10 in early March. The team faced a couple other challenges the rest of the way, but it mostly cruised to a 13-1 record. You remember the rest? Syracuse bowed out in the first round of the tournament with a 9-8 double overtime loss to Army.
Syracuse is better prepared this year. The Orange won’t have it easy come tournament time, but it’ll be ready for the challenges. There may be games decided in the final seconds; there may be games decided in overtime, but it’ll be ready.
The quest for a 12th championship will cause heartburn and plenty of anxiety, but this team knows how to win. Close or not, winning is all that matters.