Orange Watch: Syracuse lacrosse title game drought dates back to 2013

John Desko
Syracuse lacrosse head coach John Desko speaks during a press conference. MANDATORY PHOTO CREDIT: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

Item: Included in the time flies by category for a program with 11 prior championships, along with the fact that talent is spread far and wide like never before in the world of NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse, it goes back to the 2013 title game loss to Duke at Philadelphia since the Orange lacrosse team has played in the game to determine the national champion.

It was just a month plus prior to joining the ACC on July 1, 2013 that Syracuse faced its now newest conference lacrosse rival Duke for the 2013 NCAA championship (a 3-4 record in NCAA Tournament games since 2014), and it’s been since the back-to-back title teams of 2008-09 since the ‘Cuse has hoisted the title trophy on Memorial Day.

With the season opener against Binghamton in the Dome coming up quickly (Feb. 10 – 1:00 p.m. ET), the coaches’ preseason Top 20 poll came out a week ago with the Orange slotted as 10th, and Duke sitting at No. 2 behind defending national champion Maryland. Early season opponent Albany was third ranked, and overall SU will end up facing six of the Top 11 teams – Notre Dame (6), Rutgers (7), North Carolina (9), and Johns Hopkins (11).

That’s nothing new under John Desko, beginning his 20th season (believe it or not) at the helm. Syracuse has always faced a tough schedule whether as an independent, in the Big East, or certainly now in the fifth season as one of five members of the ACC.

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The preparation for this year turned out to be a little different with fall practice hampered by a mumps outbreak on campus in September, with one lacrosse player having a confirmed case, forcing the cancelation of scrimmages against International competition, along with breaking up the total number of workouts around Thanksgiving recess.

None-the-less Desko and his staff have proceeded full steam ahead, coming off two scrimmage victories Sunday against Hofstra and LeMoyne, with a team featuring an abundance of freshman faces (17 on the preseason roster), the return of key defenseman Nick Mellen (R-Soph.) from a season-long injury in 2017, along with faceoff specialist Danny Varelllo (Soph.), goalie Dom Madonna (R-Sr.), and an offense with multiple weapons on attack and midfield (seven of the top 10 point producers return) looking to shine in the spotlight.

Most of this year’s team members were in junior high school the last time Syracuse won a championship, a fact that Desko is well aware of in returning the program to the big stage.

“It’s more a desire than pressure that we’d like to get back there (Memorial Day weekend) and like to bring home another trophy,” Desko said as practice got underway this month.

“But the game has changed a little bit, there’s a lot of competition going on out there,” he continued. “You can just see in the national rankings some teams that are up there that haven’t been in the past. So I think all we need to focus on is getting better. You’re going to see some younger players getting on the field for us relatively early. Our strength of schedule is very high (adding Rutgers and Navy), so I’m hoping what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger by the end of the year.”

Wearing the school famous No. 44 jersey (no player is wearing the revered lacrosse No. 22 jersey this season) and elected one of six captains (most in program history), midfielder Matt Lane (R-Sr.) has been around for five years, with one important piece still missing from his original reason to choose wearing orange.

“When you commit here you think you’re going to get four Final Fours and maybe three (or) four national championships,” Lane told earlier this month. “That hasn’t been how my five years have gone, but that’s definitely motivating me at this point – just to get the trophy.”

The first step for Lane and his teammates, as Desko described, is improving during a tough schedule that should help the team reach a stride by the time the ACC Tournament rolls around (April 27-29), setting up a hoped for NCAA first round home game (May 13) to start the path to a return to Final Four weekend.

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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.