The quest for title No. 12 has been in the works for almost eight years, and No. 22 may have to have a breakout year to end the drought.
Expectations have been understandably high for Jordan Evans since he put on the storied jersey for Syracuse men’s lacrosse. But the No. 1 overall prospect in the freshman class of 2013 has left Orange fans wanting more after his first three seasons.
Injuries and a switch from attack to midfield led to some struggles in his freshman and sophomore years—and just a combined 11 goals and three assists. The move back to attack benefitted the Jamesville-DeWitt product last year, when he tallied 27 goals and eight assists to rank fifth in each category for the team.
That’s a solid season, but when you’re compared to the likes of Powell brothers Mike, Ryan and Casey, and Gary Gait, among others, it doesn’t measure up. When you put on the No. 22 jersey for the Orange, you’re expected to light up the scoresheet, lead the offense, win national championships, and occasionally wow fans with your mastery of the sport.
Evans has one last chance to flip his script and, at least in part, fill the role Orange fans hoped he would when he accepted the burden of wearing No. 22. In comments to CuseTV last week, Evans seems ready to take on the challenge.
“It’s the last chance we’ve got. We’re going to play every game like it’s our last game, like every play is the last play in our careers,” he said. “I think the seniors on this team are really embracing that, and we all have the same mindset.”
As the only returning starter on attack, Evans’ role will be even more pronounced for the No. 5-ranked Orange. He’ll be expected to run the attack, much like Dylan Donahue and Kevin Rice did in recent years, and help the newcomers find their feet on offense.
“I finally get to bring Dylan Donahue and Kevin Rice all into one and try to embody what they’ve done over the past couple of seasons,” Evans told CuseTV. “It’s been good trying to be a leader on the field and be more vocal. You learn best by teaching the guys around you.”
Evans will need plenty of help from the team’s four Inside Lacrosse Preseason All America honorees: senior midfielders Sergio Salcido and Nick Mariano, senior faceoff specialist Ben Williams and sophomore defender Nick Mellen.
Salcido finished second on the team last year with 53 points (29 goals and 24 assists). Mariano led the team in goals in 2016 with 35; he also notched 11 assists. The midfield also will be bolstered by the junior transfer from Denver Brendan Bomberry (brother Tyson is a defender for the Orange). Brendan tallied 19 goals and 14 assists for the Pioneers last season.
Meanwhile, Williams is one of the best faceoff specialists in the game, winning 62 percent of his draws and collecting 111 ground balls last season. He’s expected to shatter the team’s career faceofff wins record despite having played only the past two seasons for the Orange.
And while being just a sophomore, Mellen is the team’s most experienced defender. He started 16 games last season, causing 14 turnovers and grabbing 38 ground balls. Mellen has been recovering from off-season shoulder surgery but could be ready for the opener on Saturday against Siena.
Senior Scott Firmin should be another major cog in close defense. Though he’s been a long-stick midfielder until now, Desko asked him to help fill the departures of Brandon Mullins and Jay McDermott. He’ll even be wearing No. 11, the defensive complement to offense’s No. 22.
Senior Evan Molloy will be the anchor in the net. Molloy ended 2016 with a solid 7.74 goals against average and a .537 saves percentage. He finished the regular season and conference tournament strong, even earning the ACC Tournament MVP.
But Evans will be the key. After three so-so years, ending the Orange’s eight-year title drought would cement his legacy as No. 22 before the tradition gets passed onto the next star.