A new era of Syracuse lacrosse was born on Saturday afternoon as the Orange took on Holy Cross University at the Carrier Dome. Needless to say, Cuse’ nation was able to take a much needed sigh of relief.
Syracuse took care of business against Holy Cross in such dominating fashion, even your average Syracuse fan would not have anticipated. Syracuse emerged victorious with an offensive record matching performance dating back to 1994. The Orange scored a whopping 28 points in their 28-5 victory over the Holy Cross Crusaders. Syracuse was firing on all cylinders as they dominated Holy Cross in all aspects of the game including shots, saves, face-offs, groundballs, and obviously, goals.
So with such an explosive start to the 2022 lacrosse season, what should we realistically expect from the Orange? Well, to know where they might be headed, we must understand where they came from.
At the premature end of the 2020 season, Syracuse was red hot and looked like they were bound for a championship weekend return. The team had star power from top to bottom with offensive and defensive studs.
Cuse’s star offensive players like Brendan Curry (M) and Jamie Trimboli (M) created consistent defensive mismatches for opposing opponents. On the opposite end of the field, a strong defensive identity was established by Drake Porter (GK), Peter Dearth (SSDM), and Brett Kennedy (D/LSM). With the season’s premature conclusion in 2020, there were high hopes going into the 2021 season. However, the expectations were not met.
Heading into the 2021 season, there was a known phrase circulating the Syracuse lacrosse team at the time – “Championship or bust”. Needless to say, by all circumstances the season was a bust.
The team finished with a 7-6 record (2-4 in conference play) and lost in the first round of the NCAA championship to Georgetown by a score of 8-18. With the conclusion of the season, the Orange graduated a hosts of key players including but not limited to Drake Porter (GK), Jamie Trimboli (M), and Stephen Rehfuss (A).
Additionally, longtime head coach, John Desko, retired after over 20 years and five national titles at Syracuse university.
Moving forward, Syracuse then moved to hire the legendary former Syracuse lacrosse player and Hall of Famer, Gary Gait. Alongside him, the Orange brought on Dave Pietramala, former player and historic head coach at Johns Hopkins. Both of these men are often referred to as some of the greatest to ever play and coach in the game.
Syracuse lacrosse returns key pieces to their offensive along with some experienced leaders, most importantly, Brendan Curry. Curry is a 3X captain for Cuse and has an array of accolades from All-ACC to All American Honors. Accolades aside, what Curry is bringing back to this team that will be most valuable is leadership and experience.
Curry, dating back to his high school career at powerhouse Calvert Hall, knows what championship level ball looks like and what it takes to achieve it. Curry has been a leader of this Cuse team at its highest and lowest points and it should be expected for him to be the offensive leader and spark plug for this team. Needless to say, he did not disappoint on Saturday. Curry finished the game with an explosive offensive performance, totaling 6 points (4G, 2A) as he effortlessly glided through the Holy Cross defense.
In addition, he will have the help of other returning stars such as Tucker Dordevick (5G, 1A) and Owen Hiltz to help lead the offensive charge as they work to fill the void left by last year’s seniors, like Jamie Trimboli.
Syracuse defense had a few questions and important decisions to make in regards to this upcoming season. The most looming question was goaltending. With the graduation of three year starter, Drake Porter, the Orange were guaranteed to have a new face between the pipes. While the entry of a new goaltender can always pose some challenges, the expectation for high quality goalie play should be upheld considering the great goalies who have passed through the program in recent years.
Saturday, Syracuse debuted Bobby Gavin (So.) as the starter where he played the first half of the game, finishing with a commanding 7 saves and only 2 goals allowed. For the second half, Harrison Thompson (So.) took over in net, finishing with an even 2 saves and 2 goals allowed.
While both of these keepers held their own in net, they are both sophomores who inevitably lack experience in certain aspects. Although Bobby Gavin saw playing time last season as a freshman, this will be his first season as a full time starter. While that has its benefits, it can definitely come with challenges for the defense as well.
Similar to the Syracuse offense, there are a lot of spots to be filled and chemistry to rebuild on this side of the field for the Orange. Fortunately, they return a standout defensive player in Brett Kennedy. Kennedy, a two-time All-American at close defense and LSM, should be expected to be the anchor of this defensive unit. Kennedy, who is a senior and team captain, finished Saturday with 4 groundballs and an overall quality defensive performance. This is reassuring as Orange will certainly need his leadership and skillset moving forward.
As mentioned, Syracuse has made two major hires in the wake of John Desko’s retirement being Gary Gait (HC) and Dave Pietramala (AC).
Starting with assistant coach Dave Pietramala, he has a historic career as not only a coach, but as a defensive player as well. Pietramala is widely regarded as the best defenseman to ever play the game. He was national champion, All American, and winner of multiple Player of the Year awards. As a coach, he carries a similar legacy, winning national championships, mentoring over 100 All-Americans, and becoming one of the winningest coaches in college lacrosse history.
Gary Gait brings an equally if not more impressive resume to the table. Gait is considered to be the greatest player lacrosse history. He won three national titles and multiple player of the year awards during his time with Syracuse lacrosse. Gait then added an additional seven national titles while coaching with the University of Maryland’s Women’s Lacrosse team before returning to Syracuse and turning the women’s program into a national powerhouse.
what to expect moving forward
Now that two legendary players who are also established winning coaches have opened a new era of Syracuse Lacrosse with an explosive win that has everyone talking and matched records that have stood since the 90’s, what do we now expect from this Syracuse team?
The answer is simple; expect growing pains, challenges, and glimmers of hope for a brighter future. But, by no means, expect Syracuse to completely dominate within the top-25 lacrosse arena or the ACC in this upcoming 2022 season.
While they have the means and the potential to be great, the realities of the sport remain the same. They have to actualize that potential against tier-1 opponents to show they are deserving of elite status once again.
Fortunately, Syracuse University has selected two proven coaches who are capable of actualizing the potential of a program that has not been reaching its fullest in recent years. However, they are still a younger team lacking in experience and are preparing to have new faces in key positions across the field with the exception of face-offs in Jakob Phaup who went 15-18 from X in the opener.
While Syracuse clearly showed their dominance and muscle over the Holy Cross Crusaders, we expected that. Holy Cross has never been a top 25 team, nor have they ever posed a legitimate threat to actually defeating Syracuse in a previous match up. This game should be looked at as a a tune-up. The purpose being to get the players warm, create some juice in the locker room, and figure out what needs to be worked on heading into the more competitive games in the coming weeks.
Therefore, the expectations should be that they will still have rough spots, tough games where they are outmatched, moments when they get out coached, and moments where they beat themselves.
However, what should also be expected is what we witnessed Saturday being a new energy and identity to emerge within this new group. This is a group where everyone has something to prove and Saturday’s game showed there is a relentless energy from the players on the field and on the sideline. Two huge coaching hires, new players, and new leaders emerging are almost guaranteed to bring a desire to prove the doubters wrong and their supporters right.
Will this relentless energy we witnessed on Saturday, carry over to relevant opponents who are more fit to match up with the Orange?
For the coaches, this venture has massive implications as well.
For Coach Pietramala, this is an important season. This is his first season back since the departure from his former program Johns Hopkins. This is a prime chance to show the lacrosse world that he is still an elite defensive mind in the game and is deserving of this new opportunity to turn around an underachieving program. Coach Pietramala has an amazing opportunity in front of him with the tools that were displayed on the field and if there is a coach who will ensure the Orange operate at a high defensive efficiency, its “Big Dave”.
As for Coach Gait, this is the opportunity to prove that his elite coaching transitions across all levels of lacrosse, not just men’s professional, NCAA Women’s, or international. But more importantly, that he can transform a well recognized, yet under achieving program into the national powerhouse it was during his time as a player.
So what does this mean and what will it all bring for the Orange moving forward? We will have to wait and see.
These coaches by no means have set up a light schedule for their team. They will be playing a wide range of high caliber opponents in addition to the already high pressure ACC conference schedule. The Orange will play the University of Maryland on February 20th and reigning national champions, University of Virginia on February 26th in their upcoming games.
The coaches’, players’, and teams’ identity will be put to the test very soon and the entire lacrosse community is ready to witness the outcome.