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2015 Syracuse Lacrosse Preview: Erasing 2014

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The Orange return one of the best attack lines in college lacrosse for its 2015 campaign as the team tries to get back on track after a disappointing end to 2014. Syracuse may still be looking for answers at the face-off circle and on defense, but the goalie situation has panned out better than expected. All we can hope for is less of a roller coaster ride this season.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Look, last year sucked. I mean it really sucked, and it was not because this team lost to the Bryant Bulldogs or that it even lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In 2010 Syracuse lost to the Army Black Knights in the first round of the Tournament, but 2014 was worse for the fan base primarily because we thought that team had solved its problems. After two wins to start off the season, SU lost its next two to the Maryland Terrapins and then to the Virginia Cavaliers. Then the Orange had wins over the St. John's Red Storm and a good Johns Hopkins Blue Jays team. And then, right after that nice win at Hopkins, a gut punch in the form of a 7-21 drubbing at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils. Easily the low point of that regular season as there appeared to be no answers for this team.

The Duke loss spurred a brutal team meeting in which the players questioned each others heart, and subsequently the Orange strung together six straight wins including victories over the Cornell Big Red, North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke, and a one goal loss in the ACC Championship to the Notre Dame Irish. After a roller coaster season it looked like Syracuse had finally figured it out and was peaking at the right time of the year. Nevertheless, Bryant took out the Orange in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

It happened, but guess what the good news is? It is 2015 and we have a fresh new lacrosse season to look forward to. Should we lower our expectations after last year? No, because this is the greatest lacrosse program ever, period.

Schedule

If you haven't seen the schedule, take a look at it here. The ACC will be, once again, the powerhouse lacrosse conference, even with the loss of the Maryland Terrapins and the development of the Big 10 lacrosse league. As far as the non-conference schedule goes, I expect six wins: Siena Saints, #18 Army Black Knights, St. John's Red Storm (will be played in Georgia), Albany Great Danes, Hobart Statesmen, and at Colgate Red Raiders. Syracuse beat all of those teams last year except for Army who the Orange did not play. Siena has a great scorer in Richie Hurley and a solid FOGO but lost significant members of its defensive unit. Albany, a tough out for any team that played the Great Danes last year, lost Ty and Miles Thompson, and should be more manageable this year. St. John's lost its leading scorer, Kieran McArdle. Losses to any of these teams should be massively unacceptable for Syracuse. The other two non-conference games, Cornell Big Red and Johns Hopkins Blue Jays, will be more toss up games; could go either way.

Then there is the ACC schedule. Every conference game will be a battle, although I expect Syracuse to win its conference opener against Virginia. The ACC is the hardest conference to predict, and each game will be a challenge.

Attack

The Syracuse attack will be loaded again in 2015 with all three starters returning. The biggest problem for the attack last year was that they didn't have the ball enough, yet the Syracuse offense was still one of the highest producing offenses in division I, finishing as sixth in shot percentage and fourth in scoring offense. Possession will be key for this team; get the ball to the attack and watch what they can do. As good as Kevin Rice was last year, he is on the short list to be named as a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist and, dare I say it, has a shot to be the winner.

Even while starting just nine games and missing two with an injury, Randy Staats finished 2014 with 33 goals. Staats should beat his numbers from last year with an increase in playing time. Dylan Donahue is the third attackman and Syracuse's leading scorer in 2014. Simply put, attack line is about as good as it gets in the college game.

Midfield

Coach Desko was very high on Jordan Evans during media day;

"I think what you are going to see this year is the Jordan Evans that we recruited out of high school."

Evans has been practicing at both midfield and attack, and the coaching staff expects the sophomore to play a larger role in the offense. 2015 co-captain Hakeem Lecky is Syracuse's leading returning scorer at the midfield position. Lecky only played lacrosse for four years prior to arriving at Syracuse University but has emerged as one of the Orange's best midfield threats. Coach Desko remarked on Lecky's leadership capabilities:

"He leads by example and is becoming more vocal."

Henry Schoonmaker, a native of Portland, OR, should also be a big producer this year. In 2014 Schoony picked up 15 goals and was one of the primary wings on face-offs. Tim Barber transferred to Syracuse this year after being named a two-time NJCAA All-American for OCC. Barber had 55 goals and 36 assists and was named the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year in 2014. The West Genny alum has the opportunity to be a lethal. Nicky Galasso, not to be forgotten, had 13 goals and 4 assists last year in his first year with the Orange after transferring from UNC.

As for the long-stick midfielders Scott Firman and Peter Macartney are the big names. Firman had a solid year last year as a freshman picking up 12 groundballs and causing 10 turnovers. Macartney, on the other hand, is the best wing Syracuse has picking up 41 groundballs. Both of these guys will be important pieces for Syracuse.

In terms of face-offs, let's go through the new rules for 2015. First, instead of one referee positioned near the face-off, there will now be two. There will also not be a "down" call anymore. Once the players get into position, the referee will physically position the sticks and then call "set," at which point the players cannot move. Players taking face-offs will not be allowed to use a body part to initiate contact with an opponent's stick or the player's own stick. This will mainly eliminate the use of the elbow to knock or block an opponent's stick. Of course the use of the word "initiate" in the rule is a bit confusing since it implies that if contact is made a player may then use a body part to make contact with an opponent's stick, we will have to see how that plays out. The other big rule change is that a player may not gain possession of the ball on a face-off with the revere side of his stick. If a player gains possession on a face-off in the reverse side of his stick and does not move, rake or direct it to himself or a teammate and then takes more than one step, it will be a violation. Nevertheless, a player can still clamp or pinch the ball in the reverse side of his stick. To put it simply, a FOGO can pinch and pop but cannot pinch and hold.

"I like them [the new rule changes]. Makes you put it on the ground and gets the wings more involved,"

says Syracuse FOGO Ben Williams. This rule makes it tougher for a FOGO to gain possession and increases the importance of the wings to get in position for the FOGO to flip the ball in a wing's direction. Groundballs just got that much more important.

If you thought the face-off situation would be alleviated this year, let me break the bad news to you: we will still be talking about face-offs in 2015, and not for a good reason. Here is a suspect list for 2015:

Mike Iacono

Junior; 2014 (Syracuse) 8-25; 2013 (Junior College) 56-72

Ben Williams

Sophomore; 2014 (Holy Cross) 186-350

Pat Carlin

Freshman; 2014 US Lacrosse All-American, won 80% of face-offs his senior year

Nathan Farrell

Freshman; FOGO for Whitesboro HS (OH)

Max Parker

Freshman; FOGO for 2013 and 2014 Lake Highland Prep (FL); won 323 face-offs his senior year of high-school

Cal Paduda

Junior; 2014 Redshirt; 2013 47-111

Zach Vehar

Sophomore; 2014 (Quinnipiac) 159-297

Austin Wentworth

Junior; 2014 5-16

Joe DeMarco

Sophomore; 2014 5-13

Peter Macartney

Senior; 2014 1-12

The coaching staff seems to be holding off on naming a main FOGO, but after singing their praises at media day, transfers Ben Williams and Zach Vehar appear to be the two immediate favorites.

Defense

Preseason All-Americans Sean Young and Brandon Mullins will anchor the 2015 Orange defense. Young had 15 groundballs and 9 caused turnovers in 2014 while Mullins picked up 36 groundballs and caused 17 turnovers. The third defenseman could be either Ryan Palasek or Bobby Tait. Palasek, a native of Rocky Point, NY, played in just five games last year. His older brother Tommy formerly played for the Orange and led the team in scoring in 2012. Tait, another junior, started the first three games last year before being replaced by Jay McDermott, who was then replaced by Palasek, who was then replaced by Matt Harris. The defense will again be a bit of an issue for Syracuse, but it will be interesting to see if the team uses a rotation for that third spot or if they settle on one player.

Goal

As of right now, Bobby Wardwell will start the year off in net. However, Syracuse has a stacked arsenal of net minders, led by OCC transfer Warren Hill. Hill had a stellar career at OCC and as a two-time NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year winner he led the Lazers to back-to-back NJCAA National Championships. Coach Desko shed some light on the goalie situation during media day,

"Bob had a great fall, Warren has had to come in and learn what it is to be on the man-down unit, clears, even riding in situations, and our different defenses. A goalie has to be a quarterback. He has to be the communicator of the defense. I thought Warren finished the fall very well, but Bob's just been very consistent. He's done a great job and has become more vocal this year."

While Desko is still not convinced that Hill is where he needs to be to get significant time in net, he seems to be leaving the door open at the same time. On Tuesday, added:

"Bob's the starter right now, but we want Warrant to be ready too."

The word friendly must have been the word of the day as Hill followed up his coach's Tuesday comments with this:

"It's friendly. It's in the coaches hands and we will all be friends no matter who they go with."

Wardwell is starting the year in net, but if Wardwell's "consistency" starts to fade, even just a little, expect Hill to get some time. Additionally, there is the possibility of a two-goalie system, something the Orange utilized last season.

The Orange open up its season on Saturday, February 7 against Siena in the Carrier Dome.