Orange Watch: Syracuse lacrosse looks to end eight year NCAA title drought

Syracuse hasn't won a title since 2009
Syracuse hasn’t won a title since 2009

Item: With the winter flying by (and with our admiration for those that put up living in lake effect snow squall targets north of Syracuse, where they measure the snow accumulation in feet not inches), all of the sudden it’s lacrosse season with the opener Saturday afternoon against Siena (4:00 p.m. ET / ACC Extra), and as is the case each year at this time since winning the program’s last crown in 2009, the goal remains to lock down the school’s 12th national championship.

Has it really been 12 years since the Syracuse lacrosse Final Four streak came to an end?

Following last season’s quarterfinal round loss to Maryland, denying the Orange a trip to the semifinals for the third straight year, there’s nowhere to go but deeper in the tournament this time around, and if that turns out to be the case, SU will have earned its success.

The same exact schedule as last season (in the same chronological order as well), will have the usual hurdles with six opponents ranked in the pre-season Top 20 poll, and the five team ACC figures to be just as strong as usual with SU slotted third in the preseason coaches’ poll behind defending national champion North Carolina and Notre Dame.

“We feel we have a good team returning and some younger players that can potentially help us right away,” head coach John Desko said during the pre-season, about to embark on his time-flies-by 19th season running the program. “So, we’re looking forward to that challenge every week of playing the kind of schedule that we do this year, and we have high expectations for this group.”

» Related: Syracuse lacrosse’s recruiting class ranks 12th, but that’s only part of the story

There’s also the annual matter of blending in new faces for Desko and his longtime assistants (Kevin Donahue, Lelan Rogers and Roy Simmons III have been on staff for an average of 22 years). Offensively, gone are stalwart attackmen Dylan Donahue and Tim Barber who combined for 57 goals last season, with returnee Jordan Evans the veteran leader back for his final year, to be joined by a pair of sophomores in Nate Solomon and Brad Voight.

The midfield is bolstered by the return of senior Sergio Salcido who was second in scoring behind Dylan Donahue a year ago, and figures to be a unit that features several players that will be featured in the hybrid spot of running both as a middie and fourth attackman (junior Nick Mariano – 35 goals a year ago).

On defense, gone are Brendon Mullins and Jay McDermott and returnee Nick Mellen is still recovering from an off season injury, so sophomores Tyson Bomberry, Marcus Cunningham, and redshirt freshman Andrew Helmer will be counted on for their play in front of senior goalie Evan Molloy who started the last nine games of the 2016 season and was named the ACC Tournament MVP.

“It’s always tough when you lose defensive guys, especially guys that played so great for us last year, we just have to work on our chemistry,” Molloy told Cuse TV during the preseason. “We have new guys coming in, and they’re all playing great, they’re really intense guys. They all bring something different to the table, kind of like those guys last year, and I think we’re going to be a pretty good defense this year.”

With talent spread all over the country among the 67 schools that play Division I lax, and with new varsity programs opening up in states like Arkansas and Mississippi further distributing that talent away from the traditional east coast hotbeds of central New York, Baltimore and Long Island, winning two postseason games to just make the Final Four, yet along four victories for a national title is as hard as ever.

“Ourselves, the players from the Midwest (three on the ’17 roster), Sergio (middie Salcido) from Florida, Ben (faceoff specialist Williams) from Minnesota, we’ve got guys from all over the map,’ Desko said. “That just speaks for the growth of high school lacrosse across the country.”

With the trend of talented rosters now seemingly everywhere, it’s going to continue to make it challenging for ‘Cuse lax to not only make it back to the Final Four (at New England’s Gillette Stadium the next two years), but win the program’s 12th “gold medal.”

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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.