Early success critical to new-look Syracuse men’s lacrosse

Georgetown

Syracuse came out firing in the 2016 season

Nothing calms the new-season nerves like scoring 10 unanswered goals to open your first game. That’s just what the revamped Syracuse men’s lacrosse team did as it cruised to an 18-5 win over Siena last weekend.

With so many players making their first starts—two attackmen, a whole first-line midfield, one defender and a keeper—it was just the start the Orange needed.

Senior standout Dylan Donahue matched a career-best nine points with four goals and five assists. Five others added at least two goals apiece. Junior faceoff specialist Ben Williams picked up right where he left off last year by winning 12 of 16 draws. Warren Hill notched five saves and looked comfortable making his debut as a starter in net. And the undersized freshman defender Nick Mellen impressed by causing four turnovers and collecting six ground balls—leading the team in both categories.

But let’s not get too excited about the 2016 campaign yet.

With a brutal three-game stretch starting in late March, Syracuse’s first five games are critical to the season. The schedule’s relative ease of Siena, Albany (Sunday), Army (Feb. 28) at Virginia (March 4) and St. John’s (March 12) may allow all the new pieces to gel and players to gain confidence before traveling to No. 6 Johns Hopkins (March 19) and No. 3 Duke (March 26) then hosting No. 1 Notre Dame (April 2).

» Related: Dylan Donahue’s nine points leads Syracuse past Siena

There aren’t any gimmes of course in these first five games, but if Syracuse can go into late March 5-0 or 4-1, it can feel much more comfortable about facing three of the best teams in the country consecutively.

No. 12-ranked Albany, taking the field for the first time this season on Sunday, is expected to be a much tougher test than Siena. Orange fans will be glad Lyle Thompson graduated; he led the country with 121 points (6.4 per game) and won the Tewaaraton Award in 2015. But that doesn’t mean the team can relax.

The up-tempo, high-scoring Great Danes return the 66-goal and 22-assist Connor Fields, a sophomore, and Seth Oakes, who scored 54 goals and added 12 assists last year. They’re expected to put Brandon Mullins, Jay McDermott, Mellen and Hill under pressure.

Meanwhile, the Great Danes have a deep midfield, and all but one starting defender returns. Albany also boasts a standout goalie in Blaze Riordan; he had a 9.93 goals against average and .560 save percentage last year.

Based on Syracuse’s performance against Siena, there are two things the team will need to do to beat Albany:

  • Clean up the turnovers. Against a fast-paced, quick-strike Albany team, the Orange can’t afford to be as sloppy as it was against the Saints. Although not too surprising for the team’s first game, Syracuse coughed up the ball 18 times last weekend.
  • Distribute the ball. While Donahue was the primary beneficiary of Kevin Rice’s vision and distribution last year, scoring 50 goals on the season, defenses are expected to focus on him now, especially without any other proven scorers on attack. His five assists against Siena were huge. Donahue’s ability to direct the offense will be an indicator of success throughout the season.

Albany, Army and St. John’s certainly aren’t pushovers, and a road tilt against Virginia to start ACC play—even if expectations are tempered for the Cavaliers—won’t be a walk in the park, but a cushion heading into Johns Hopkins, Duke and Notre Dame sure would be nice.

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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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