Three games in, faceoffs, goalkeeping far from concerns for Syracuse lacrosse

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Syracuse has improved significantly in faceoffs

Ben and Bobby.

Get to know the names, Syracuse lacrosse fans.

Ben Williams, a sophomore transfer from Holy Cross, and Bobby Wardwell, the senior keeper who never quite worked his way out of a timeshare in years past, are shinning at the start of the Orange’s 2015 season.

They’re proving to be revelations, the most important and compelling players to watch, and the solutions to what have been the team’s biggest weaknesses in recent years: faceoffs and goalkeeping.

Williams won 21-of-25 draws in the 12-9 win on Sunday against Army, including the first 11. He took 17-of-20 in the opener against Siena and 9-of-22 against Cornell. That amounts to 70.1 percent (47 for 67) on the season. Last year, the team collected just 46.7 percent of its faceoffs. The team hasn’t won more than half of the draws in a season since 2010, when it collected 55.6 percent.

Granted, it’s still early in the season, and the brunt of the schedule is coming, but the early signs are promising. Coach John Desko seems to have scored a coup in the transfer Williams. Count Army coach Joe Alberici as impressed.

» Related: Syracuse lacrosse beats Army with third quarter eruption

“I thought Williams was the most valuable player,” Alberici said after the game. “He played terrific and gave them a lot of opportunities.”

If a couple more draws go the other way and the ball is kept away from the potent Orange offense, the game could’ve turned in Army’s favor.

Meanwhile, Wardwell notched 11 saves against the Black Knights, and there’s no doubt he deserves the net-minding duties to himself.

Wardwell has stopped 57.8 percent of the shots he’s faced through three games—good for top 20 in country. He owns a 7.42 goals against average.

Desko said after the game that Wardwell is in complete control of the defense.

“(He’s) playing very well. I think he played well last year. We were always getting a very solid performance out of him, very few goals going in that shouldn’t go in,” Desko said. “Now we’re starting to get some stops on shots that should go in.”

The senior from Clifton Park, N.Y., has seen considerable action in the Orange net since his freshman year in 2012, but for much of the time, he was in a timeshare with the now-graduated Dominic Lamolinara. He’s gone from a starter to the bench and back again.

When Desko brought in Onondaga Community College transfer Warren Hill, who led junior college lacrosse with a 4.33 goals-against average and a .733 save percentage in 2014, there was a chance Wardwell would be faced with another timeshare. But Wardwell seems to have finally solidified his grip on the position.

Hill has only gotten into the cage when victories were already in hand. He played more than 20 minutes against Siena and three against Cornell, but he didn’t see the field against Army. Syracuse never led by more than three goals, and Desko trusted Wardwell to play all 60 minutes. He made several saves late to help seal the Syracuse win.

Thanks to the emergence of Ben and Bobby, coupled with the talented attack and quality defense, all signs point to success in 2015. Let’s hope the trend continues on Sunday at noon against No. 5 Virginia.

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Dan Brannigan

About Dan Brannigan

Dan is currently the editor of Common Ground magazine for Community Associations Institute (CAI) where he has won an Association Media & Publishing award for newswriting. Dan has also won a New England Press Association award while working for the The Inquirer and Mirror in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he grew up. Dan is a 2005 Syracuse University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @djbranni.
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