Villanova, Pa. – They’re back college lacrosse world.
They’re back for the 29th time in the last 30 years to be exact.
Back in the exact spot that the program expects to be every season, in the hunt for the NCAA championship.
The Syracuse lacrosse team is back.
Forget about the .500 regular season finish, the home losses to Villanova and Georgetown. They’re long gone memories now, all wiped out by a couple of days of crisp play at both ends of the field for two complete halves. SU dominated in wins first over host Villanova (15-6 final) and then league Cinderella St. John’s (12-4 final) to win Saturday’s first-ever Big East championship at throw-back Villanova Stadium.
“When our defense is playing well, it’s easier for the offense to play, we’re not playing catch-up like we were in a lot of our games this year,” head coach John Desko said after notching his 171st career win in 14 seasons, but first Big East title to go with his eventual Hall of Fame achievement of five NCAA crowns.
“Things are starting to settle down now; the guys are coming into their own and following the game plan.”
Sounds simple enough. But the season-long maneuvering of players and getting newcomers on the field who are now contributing has been paying off. It’s evidenced by handily winning two single elimination games, one against a team it lost to at home and was playing on its home field, the other looking to finish Act Two of an improbable story after slaying the top dog Notre Dame.
The first obvious place to start with the Orange (9-7) transformation is in goal. Freshman Bobby Wardwell has improved weekly since starting the last six regular season games. His standout play continued at Villanova, including pitching a first-half shutout against St. John’s.
“I feel more comfortable at the start of each game (I’ve played) and it’s because of the defense, all of the guys in front of me are great, “ Wardwell said humbly after being named to the all tournament team.
“We have jelled as a defensive unit, and they’re just not giving me the shots that I (don’t) need to see. Like today, I don’t think they (St. John’s) had a shot inside of 10 yards in the first half.”
That shutdown “D” opened up a smooth transition game and offensive flow in the tournament wins, with senior attack Tommy Palasek seemingly time and again finding teammates for goals, while netting four of his own in darting fashion to be named tournament MVP.
“It’s part of our offensive game plan every week to get everyone looks,” Palasek said after perfectly executing that game plan with feeds to cutting teammates, and taking it right to the goal himself in running out to a 7-0 first half lead against the Red Storm.
“Me and Tim (Desko) do a pretty good job of attacking the cage from behind, so when we’re feeling it, coach gives us the ok to do it.”
The Orange will learn their NCAA destination during Sunday night’s live broadcast (9:00 ET / ESPNU) of the bracket unveiling. If it sustains the same level of play that ensured it one of the 16 spots, this post-season run may also turn out to be longer than expected.Brad Bierman