Orange’s early exit hurts—Still

I thought—more than a month later—Syracuse’s loss to Maryland in the 2011 NCAA quarterfinals wouldn’t sting as much, but time hasn’t healed this wound.

The Orange’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Terps at Foxboro on May 22 marked the second straight year the team failed to reach the Final Four. Last year, Syracuse was knocked out with a 9-8 double overtime loss to Army in the first round.

This isn’t what we’ve come to expect as fans of the Syracuse Orange. After all, just a few years ago, the team was a sure fire bet to reach the Final Four. It only had 22 straight appearances on championship weekend until 2005 and a streak of 25 consecutive NCAA tournament quarterfinal victories.

But the writing was on the wall this year. This team, more than any other collection of Orange, was defined by defense. And this season, more than any other I can remember, was defined by close calls. Eight of Syracuse’s 17 games were decided by two goals or less; three ended in extra time. The Orange managed to come out unscathed from those battles in the regular season.

I wrote in April that Syracuse was better prepared to win the championship this year than last year because of those close calls. In 2010, Syracuse lost one regular season game and mostly cruised to a 13-1 record before its first round loss to Army. Similarly, Syracuse finished 2011 with a 14-1 record, but it faced so many tests, so many challenges before the tournament, I thought it was ready this time.

But the Orange luck in close games finally disappeared. It finally ran up against an opponent that was one step quicker and one save better.

Against Maryland, a team just as stout defensively, a low-scoring affair was guaranteed and each possession was critical. The Orange was outplayed in nearly every facet. The Terps won 11 of 14 faceoffs, had a 34 to 22 edge on shots and earned 19 ground balls to Syracuse’s 12.

When Maryland’s Grant Catalino netted the game-winner with 32 seconds left in the extra session, an era ended. Syracuse graduated seven talented seniors—goalie John Galloway, close defender John Lade, long-stick midfielder Joel White, midfielders Jeremy Thompson, Jovan Miller and Josh Amidon and attack Steven Keogh.

This senior class won national titles as freshman and sophomores in 2008 and 2009, but came up short as upperclassman—an unfortunate end to a class that may still go out as one of the best.

So, the 12th championship will have to wait. And there are many holes to fill. The biggest will be in the net.

Galloway’s presence will be sorely missed. He finished his career as the NCAA record-holder for wins (59) and minutes played (3,776). He helped the Orange to a 60-8 record during his four seasons. In his final year, Galloway recorded 147 saves, a .572 save percentage and broke his own school record with a 6.70 season goals-against average in 2011. He was named the nation’s best goalie for the second consecutive season by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association.

The team that takes the field next year will look vastly different. The last time this team faced so many questions was in 2007, when the Orange had its worst season in 25 years with a 5-8 record. The following year, this now graduated senior class helped lead the Orange to a national championship.

Syracuse will reload and underclassmen will step up to the expectations of the demanding Orange nation. There are wounds to heal and new streaks to start.

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About Dan Brannigan 71 Articles
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.