The Syracuse team that takes the field against Albany in the season opener at the Dome on Saturday will be hardly recognizable from the one that lost to Maryland in the 2011 NCAA quarterfinals.
A fresh start could be a good thing after two straight years of early tournament exits. Young, energetic, hungry players could be just what the Orange needs.
After all, it was four years ago a young squad facing several questions, much like this one, went 16-2 and won the national championship. That team featured rookies John Galloway, Joel White and Stephen Keogh, part of a class that finished 60-8 and won two titles. Much like that 2008 group, this one also features experienced upperclassmen with something to prove.
But there could be some growing pains. If the exhibitions are any indication, there are some concerns. Syracuse finished its preseason 3-1, defeating LeMoyne, Hofstra and Maryland, but losing to Canisius. The details show this team still has some work to do. Even Coach John Desko admits that.
“We’re definitely not in midseason form. But mentally we’re ready to go, and as coaches, we’re going to spend a lot of time the next couple of days watching film and evaluating what we saw on the field,” Desko said after the team’s scrimmages on Feb. 12.
The Orange dug itself a 6-2 hole against Maryland. It surrendered a goal 11 seconds into the game, allowed another goal during a man-up opportunity and gave up another on a desperation 30-yard shot with 1 second remaining in the first quarter.
Sophomore Matt Lerman, the presumptive starting goalie, allowed six goals, including the 30-yard heave, and saved just two in the first half.
Syracuse wasn’t much better at the faceoff X. The Orange won the last five faceoffs of the game and went six for eight in the fourth quarter, but it started the game by losing eight of 13.
There were some positives, including the team’s ability to battle back with three goals in the final minute to beat Maryland 11-9.
As the team prepares to kick off the 2012 campaign, here are five things to watch:
Minding the net
It’s no easy task replacing four-year starter and two-time national goalie of the year Galloway. No one has emerged as the true favorite of the seven goalies on the roster when practice began in January. Lerman and Maryland transfer Dom Lamolinara have received most of the preseason netminding duties. Expect Lerman, as Galloway’s backup last year and the most familiar with Syracuse’s system, to get the starting nod.
Not only will Syracuse miss Galloway’s presence in the net, but also in the transition game. He was exceptional at clearing and getting the ball back into the offense’s possession. Orange defenders and midfielders will have to carry a bigger burden here.
Junior captain and preseason All-America Brian Megill was one of eight players to start every game last year. He led all Syracuse close defensemen with 27 caused turnovers and scooped up 34 ground balls, good for fourth on the squad. But he’ll need some help from emerging underclassmen to help the unit measure up to last year’s third-in-the-country scoring defense (6.94 goals allowed per game).
No. 22 leadership
Expect junior captain JoJo Marasco to run mostly with the first-line midfield after bouncing between attack and midfield in his first two seasons. As current owner of the fabled No. 22 jersey, Marasco will be counted on for his on-field leadership, goal-scoring ability and distributor. He tied for the team lead in points last year with 41 (23 goals, 18 assists). He’ll need to be even better.
The Orange, as always, have a promising group of young players on the roster. Redshirt freshman Hakeem Lecky missed last year with a wrist injury, but could feature on the first-line midfield with Marasco and senior Bobby Eilers. Desko has gushed about Lecky’s ability and speed.
Competing for time on the second midfield line is junior Matt Pratt, a former standout two-way midfielder from Onondaga Community College. Pratt was named junior college player of the year in 2011 and led his team to back-to-back championships.
Sophomore Scott Loy and freshman Henry Schoonmaker also should see significant time on the second and third midfield lines.
Yes, Syracuse lost a lot of talented, experienced players to graduation last year. Since preparations for the season began, those returning have talked about being slighted in the rankings. The current group of seniors has accumulated a 44-6 record; four of those loses were by one goal. It has helped transform the program from an offensive powerhouse to one of the top defenses in the country in the past three years. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
And, don’t forget, the attack features redshirt senior Tim Desko, senior Tommy Palasek and sophomore Derek Maltz—an experienced unit that should have no trouble scoring goals.