Orange Watch: Near season’s midpoint, Syracuse lacrosse looking like team on mission

Syracuse plays Cornell in lacrosse. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.
Sr. attackman Kevin Rice, pictured vs. Cornell last season, has a team leading 28 points for the No. 1 ranked Orange

Item: At 6-0 and on top of the lacrosse polls, this year’s Orange squad has its long term vision on NCAA title number 12, but first, however, those sights are set on topping new archrival Duke, the two time defending national champion, this coming weekend in the Dome. 

Until the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Rules Committee takes further, larger steps towards reducing the importance of the faceoff in the sport, which they accomplished minimally with this year’s physical installation of the shot clocks – and good only if the :30 to shoot call is signaled more often by the officials to have a chance at a change of possession, the almighty faceoff draw following a goal being scored is still the ultimate weapon in a sport played very competitively by the top twenty or so of the 69 schools on the Div. I level.

Much has rightfully been made about the arrival of Holy Cross transfer Ben Williams and the job he’s done in literally getting SU off on the right foot in many of its six games, or on draws following an opposition’s goal.  The sophomore faceoff specialist’s 72% success rate heading into last Saturday’s 13-10 win over John Hopkins at the Dome led the nation, and although that number dipped a little with his 16-for-27 (59%) performance against the Blue Jays, he won the one’s that mattered the most in the fourth quarter of a back-and-forth game giving the ‘Cuse the opportunity to score late and hold on.

Once Williams does his magic and Syracuse starts the motor on the offensive end the number of weapons is downright scary, with five of the six players on attack and the first midfield being seniors who know how to finish.

» Related: Syracuse rallies for a win over Johns Hopkins.

“We’re fortunate that players have stepped up for us game to game,” head coach John Desko said after watching one of those players, senior middie Henry Schoonmaker, score twice late against Hopkins as the first midfield unit contributed five goals overall.  “Somebody will have a good game (one week), somebody else will have a good game the following week.  These guys (the starters) are all pretty experienced.  They’ve seen a lot of lacrosse, different types of games, they know what to do in tight games like this (beating JHU).”

At the other end of the field, another senior has stabilized the goalie position with Bobby Wardwell looking more comfortable as games wind down, with three of his five saves coming in the fourth quarter versus JHU, including a big one with the game tied at 10 with 10:00 to play.

“I had to get into a little bit of a rhythm, towards the end of the game I was seeing the ball better,” Wardwell admitted after Syracuse’s eighth win in the past nine meetings against Hopkins.  “The mentality you have to have is always be thinking about getting (saving) the next one (shot).”

The next shot on the field for the No. 1 Orange goes from the Blue Jays to the Blue Devils, as in Duke, the program the Orange has instantly forged a bitter rivalry against in the nascent years of ACC play.

Not only is SU looking to end a seven year national title drought and take the trophy back north from Durham, but other than last year’s improbable last second 16-15 comeback win in the ACC Tournament semi-finals, DU has dominated SU on the field recently (SU outscored 61-36 in four losses dating back to 2012) and the Orange want to change that Sunday afternoon (12:30 p.m. ET / ESPNU) in Duke lacrosse’s second-ever visit (a 12-11 SU win in 1994) to the Dome.

“I told our guys during the week that the only time you really care about being number one is at the end of the year,” Desko said after watching this year’s squad get off to a 6-0 start for the first time since 2011.  “But one of the things you do get by being number one is everybody’s best game coming in.  So if you can come up with a “W” (in a game against a Johns Hopkins), it makes you a better team.”

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.