Competitive lacrosse landscape forcing Syracuse out

Welcome to the new normal, Syracuse men’s lacrosse fans.

Get to know how regular people spend their weekends at the end of May. Get used to the barbecues, pool openings and extra day of spring cleaning and yard work. We can’t block off the Saturday and Monday afternoons on Memorial Day weekend anymore.

It used to be a rite of passage for each Syracuse team to play until Memorial Day, a spring tradition for us to cheer on the Orange through championship weekend—something we took for granted. We just can’t expect that level of sustained success anymore. The writing has been on the wall for several years now, and I’m just coming around to the notion. Take a look at recent history.

Until 2005, Syracuse played in 22 straight championship weekends. Until 2007, Syracuse reached the playoffs every year. The team nearly failed to qualify again this year, until an impressive but somewhat lucky run (thanks for beating Notre Dame, St. John’s) through the inaugural BIG EAST championship to secure an automatic berth.

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We could talk about many things that led to the Duke loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, including the team’s failings at the faceoff X, the suspect defense and the young goalie. But that would be a disservice to the sport of lacrosse.

It’s a different game now than the one in which Syracuse dominated from 1983 to 2004. The sport has grown considerably in recent years, leading to more parity than ever.

Take a look at rising powers Denver and Notre Dame—still playing as the tournament enters the second weekend. And the schools with fledgling programs; lacrosse is now a varsity sport at Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. With those well-funded athletic departments, it’s only a matter of time before consistent winning teams are produced.

Soon, maybe even this year, a new school will join the eight that have won lacrosse championships (Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Virginia, Princeton, Duke, North Carolina, Maryland and Cornell).

Take a look at team rosters. Syracuse has players from Colorado, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee and, of course, Oregon (midfielder Henry Schoonmaker)—not exactly lacrosse hotbeds until recently. Duke sports players from California, and one of the defenders who helped shut down the Syracuse offense—Chris Hipps—is from Dallas.

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It would’ve been ludicrous a few years ago to expect Syracuse and other traditional powers to regularly recruit outside of the Mid-Atlantic and New England. Now, it’s a necessary part of Coach John Desko’s job. It’s an adapt-or-die world.

Now, I know Syracuse won championships in 2008 and 2009—after the Final Four and tournament streaks ended. And I believe Syracuse will regularly entertain us once basketball ends with good, even great, teams. Heck, the Orange may win a title in coming years as Bobby Wardwell, Hakeem Lecky, Schoonmaker and others become reliable, consistent leaders.

But Desko and the Orange coaching staff simply can’t churn out annual championship contenders in the most competitive, balanced lacrosse landscape ever. It’s not that we should expect losing. It’s just that we shouldn’t expect winning as much.

So, try to enjoy all that free time you have now on the next few weekends. Are you having a hot dog or hamburger?

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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.