The Syracuse men’s lacrosse team has all the talents, tools, experience and motivation to capture its 12th national title—its first since 2009—on Memorial Day in Philadelphia, but its sure to face stiff tests on the way.
As the No. 2 seed, the Orange (13-2) breezed by Marist 20-8 in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday. Kevin Rice tallied a career-high nine points (four goals, five assists). Jordan Evans scored a career-high five goals. Ben Williams won 15 of 22 faceoffs. Meanwhile, Bobby Wardwell finished with six saves and six goals allowed. The team made sure there was no chance of a Bryant circa 2014 disappointment in the Dome.
As it prepares to face Johns Hopkins at noon on Sunday in Annapolis, then a potential matchup with North Carolina or Maryland before a championship tilt with possibly Notre Dame or Denver, the Orange will need a few things to go right, a little bit of luck and perseverance.
It will need a breakout offensive star. We already know the damage Rice, Dylan Donahue and Randy Staats can inflict. There’s no doubt Syracuse’s attack trio will need to be superb, but another player or two will need to step up too. Evans, Mr. No. 22, might just be that guy. He had what may have been the best game of his career against Marist.
After putting in time as a defensive midfielder last year as a freshman and an early season lower-body injury kept him quiet this year, Evans’ contributions on the second midfield against Marist cannot be overstated and comes at just the right time.
Ben Williams will need to continue his mastery at the X. Williams is the weapon Syracuse hasn’t had in years. He’s collected 67.6 percent of his draws, good for second best in the country. Only Denver’s Trevor Baptiste has been better this season; he’s racked up a 70.5 faceoff win percentage. A potential title game tilt between Denver and Syracuse could hinge on this matchup.
Bobby Wardwell will have to be at his best. The senior keeper ranks 18th in the country with an 8.67 goals against average, but is just 34th with a 52.4 saves percentage. Against teams still alive in the tournament and some of the top offenses in the country, Wardwell allowed 10 goals to Johns Hopkins, 13 to Notre Dame, 12 to Albany, 10 in 32 minutes to North Carolina and 8 in the second game against the Tar Heels. Wardwell has what it takes to stand on his head, but he can be streaky in the net.
The defense will need to contain the stars. Johns Hopkins (10-6) is riding high after blowing out Virginia 19-7 in the first round. The Blue Jays have reeled off six straight wins and are a much different team than the one Syracuse beat 13-10 in March. Hopkins’ Ryan Brown ranks second in the country with 3.63 goals per game, but standout brothers Wells and Shack Stanwick are creative, powerful forces too. North Carolina’s Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey could await later, then there are players like Denver’s Wes Berg and Notre Dame’s Matt Kavanagh. Syracuse doesn’t have a shutdown defense, but it has an experienced group to count on. Brandon Mullins and company will have their hands full.
The team will have to battle back from adversity. When it’s faced sizable deficits this season—seven in its first game against North Carolina and six against Notre Dame—Syracuse ultimately fell short. Let’s hope it doesn’t face deficits as large, but the experience in battling back in each of those games is huge. The Orange offense can keep the team in any game; it may need to come up big to win it all too.
Desko said on Sunday there’s no easy way into the championship game. “You’ve got to come ready to play. You’ve got to do what you do best.”
Let’s hope they do just that.