Syracuse men’s lacrosse fans need to adjust their expectations and definitions of success in an increasingly competitive landscape.
The days of 22-straight Final Four appearances and national titles at least once every couple of years are long gone.
There’s no doubt that the 2014 Syracuse men’s lacrosse season ended in disappointment on May 11 in a 10-9 loss to Bryant at home in the NCAA first round. While the game will linger in the minds of all Syracuse players, coaches and fans until the 2015 season gets underway, this year also should be remembered for a mid-season resurgence that got the Orange to the playoffs in the first place.
After a 21-7 thrashing at Duke, a rematch of the 2013 national title game, on March 23, all looked lost. Syracuse was 0-3 in its first ever contests in the ACC, and with a month remaining in the regular season, the team was already on the verge of missing the conference and NCAA tournaments.
The Duke loss was the Orange’s most lopsided setback since falling 24-8 to Hobart in 1977 and the first time the team had lost by double digits since a 17-5 setback at Johns Hopkins in 2004.
The Orange wasn’t just losing in the ACC, it was losing bad.
Syracuse lost by eight to Maryland, five to Virginia and 14 to Duke. In the three contests, the team averaged just nine goals while allowing 18. The Orange was winning a miserable 28 percent of its faceoffs in the league. Meanwhile, the team was outshot by Maryland 55-32, Virginia 55-32 and Duke 57-27. In the ground ball game, the Orange was outdistanced 36-17, 51-22 and 38-17.
Yet the team rebounded by winning six straight, besting Notre Dame, Binghamton, Cornell, North Carolina, Hobart and nemesis Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals. Notre Dame then narrowly edged the Orange in the league title game 15-14.
During the resurgence, senior faceoff specialist Chris Daddio found his form, goalies Dominic Lamolinara and Bobby Wardwell played sharper, the defense buckled down and the offense was given a chance to shine.
Against Bryant, the Orange ran up against exactly the wrong team with the right strategy. The Bulldogs boasted the best faceoff specialist in the game in Kevin Massa, who won 14-of-23 draws—12 in the first three quarters. It rode a hot goalie in Gunnar Waldt, employed a slow-down offense and packed-in zone defense that stymied Syracuse’s outside shooters.
Much like the Orange’s early exit in the 2010 tournament—a 9-8 overtime loss to Army at home—this one came as a surprise. This is now the second straight senior class to graduate without winning a national title; it hasn’t won it all since 2009.
There are no guarantees in college lacrosse anymore, especially since the sport is no longer confined to hotbeds like Central New York, Long Island and the Baltimore-Washington region. Upsets will be more common. We can still expect the Orange to be contend for a title annually, especially with John Desko at the helm, but shouldn’t be surprised when they fall short.