There are kids in kindergarten who have yet to experience a Syracuse Orange lacrosse national championship. This is a tragedy on par with ... OK I'll let you fill that in with your imagination.
In all seriousness though, Syracuse lacrosse is about to embark on one of the most important, and perhaps most pressure-filled NCAA Tournaments in its history. Sounds like a bit of hyperbole, but let's discuss the reasons why:
1. The six-year championship drought is SU's longest since it won its first NCAA title in 1983
The landscape of DI lacrosse has absolutely changed. There's no denying that. When Syracuse won its last title in 2009, only seven schools had ever won a championship. Since then, Duke won its first title (and second and third) and Loyola joined the championship club, increasing the pool by almost 30%. Still, there have now been two full classes of recruits that have come and gone without a championship, which is something that simply doesn't happen with the Orange. This group won't want to be the third.
2. Syracuse is 4-5 in the NCAA Tournament since 2010
At the risk of stirring up the #FireDesko crew, this is certainly a troubling trend. Three first-round exits in the last five years is unacceptable. Two of those (Army and Bryant) are among the biggest upsets in the history of the sport (potentially ranking 1 and 2). Sure, Desko mixed in a run to the title game in 2013, but another early exit would make even that seem pretty far away for SU fans.
3. Almost everyone is graduating this year
There are so many benefits to having a senior-laden group. This team knows success (2013 Final Four run) and it also knows failure (Bryant). The attack unit has two seniors and a junior, who have played together for years now, and know where each of them is going to be at all times. The first midfield consists of three fifth-year seniors. Brandon Mullins is among the best defenders in the country, Peter McCartney had a fine season as a senior LSM, and Bobby Wardwell will finally move on after an up and down career that seems to be ending on a high note in his last year. There are going to be holes everywhere next year, so it's essential this group wins now, when it has a chance because ...
4. The next generation is not entirely clear
SU brought on the #2 recruiting class in the country two years ago, but so far, those players have not absolutely proven they will be stars. The second midfield continues to be a weakness as Jordan Evans and Nick Weston have shown promise, but not consistency so far. Tim Barber has also shown some promise as a 4th attack, but there will be plenty of questions on that unit after losing Rice and Staats next year. Honestly, Syracuse has so much talent in the pipeline, they will probably be fine, but the guess here is there will be a lot more uncertainty heading into next year than we're accustomed to.
5. This team is really, really good
Let's just be honest here. This team is very talented, and very well-balanced. If you look back at the teams that have failed to bring home the trophy in the last five seasons, they all had glaring flaws. The 2010 team lacked a true quarterback on attack after losing Mike Leveille and Kenny Nims from the previous seasons. The 2011 team had probably the best defense in school history, but simply couldn't score (just 10.76 goals per game), and lost a 6-5 stall game to a team that knew how to beat them (by ruining lacrosse). The 2012 team shouldn't have even made the tournament if not for the Big East championship run. Everyone knew about the faceoff issues in 2013, and they almost overcame that flaw, but it caught up to them in the title game. And the 2014 team also struggled with faceoffs and lacked outside shooters, which Bryant masterfully exploited in the first round with its zone defense last year.
The 2015 team is balanced. They can - and have - destroyed zone defenses and man defenses, scoring 14.5 goals per game. They've controlled possessions, winning 66% of faceoffs, and outshooting opponents by almost 10 per game. They've clamped down on defense to hold opponents to fewer than 10 goals per game, against a schedule that was tougher than any in the nation.
A first round exit would be unacceptable. A quarterfinal loss would be a total disappointment. A Final Four is necessary, though even that would seem mediocre for this team.
It may be championship or bust for this group. That's a lot of pressure, but it's also what you sign up for when you decide to play for Syracuse. The expectations are sky high, and this year, they cannot get much higher.