The Syracuse Orange held its media day this week, kicking off the 100th year of college lacrosse at ‘Cuse. Coach Desko spoke at a press conference in which he answered some of the most pressing questions regarding the 2016 squad. First up I've put together my takeaways from Desko's comments followed up by a good amount of quotes. Enjoy.
1. Ben Williams will be even more of a factor this year.
In 2015, Williams was hampered by injury at times, but it sounds like he is cleared to go, which is great news for Syracuse fans. That being said, the game plan for Ben will be somewhat different this year. The coaching staff is looking to be utilizing Williams less as a FOGO and more as a true midfielder off of the faceoff. Expect to see him get more offensive opportunities. One note of caution, Williams' one problem last season was turnovers off of faceoff wins. At times he looked nervous with the ball but I wouldn't expect that to continue.
2. Cal Paduda will be utilized more in 2016.
I'll be honest, I was very surprised to hear how excited Desko was about Paduda. Cal redshirted in 2014 and played just five games in 2015 pulling in 21 of 33 faceoffs. The seeming emergence of Paduda and the newfound confidence in him from the coaching staff should allow Williams to be used more on midfield runs.
3. The defensive freshman have come to play.
Desko doesn't hand out praise easily, but he sounded very impressed by several of the incoming defensive freshman. Specifically he named: Nick Mellen, Andrew Helmer, David Diltz, Tyson Bomberry, and Austin Fusco (redshirt sophomore). Mellen had a great fall, and I would not be surprised to see him starting, at some point this year, on close defense. Desko mentioned how he liked Mellen's smaller stature and quick, athletic ability to match up with similarly sized attackmen. He hinted that SU is looking to go smaller and faster on the defensive end instead of going with big, physical defensemen, so Mellen should fit nicely into the future as well. I also expect Tyson Bomberry to get some runs at close defense.
Additionally, the long stick midfield crew appears to be solid, even with the loss of Peter MaCartney. Desko said that LSM Jonah Swigart is right there with Scott Firman and Austin Fusco.
I am very excited to see these new guys, especially Mellen, and see what how they will fit into the defensive unit.
4. Warren Hill is the starter.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I was not impressed by Warren Hill last year. That being said, he had a great fallball season and seems to have really stepped up his game. I figured there would be more of a battle for the starting netminder position, but as Desko said, Warren has improved by leaps and bounds. As a former goalie, I think splitting time in net puts a lot of added pressure on the player, especially the second half goalie who is expected to step into game speed after spending a half standing around. However, I don't think this is a situation were we will see split time, even if Hill struggles; it sounds like he is far ahead of the backup, Evan Molloy. Desko did say that the coaching staff has not given up on Molloy though.
5. The attack lineup is not settled.
Dylan Donahue will be under increased defensive pressure this year, which goes without saying. As Desko said, he will need to carry the ball more this year, but the coaches still want him to do the things that he is best at. From Desko's comments, I get the impression that Jordan Evans will probably be slotted at attack, not midfield. Most of his appearances in the fall have been on the attack line, but if no one emergences at midfield he could head back there. He will need to be much better this year to help take pressure off of Donahue. After those two, it is completely unclear who will play attack. I assume we will see a mix of guys, as Desko said.
6. Midfielders have not separated themselves.
This is scary. I expected some of the middies to step up, but apparently that has not been the case. It appears the midfield will be the Achilles heal of this team, which is unfortunate considering the recent strength at that position. Coach Desko talked about how the team has a glut of lefties, an unusual problem, and the staff to trying to figure out which of those lefties will compliment the attack better. Looking at the roster, I actually like the defensive midfielders. As of now, it appears the top options at midfield will include: Derek DeJoe, Ryan Simmons, Nick Weston, Sergio Salcido, Tom Grimm and Tim Barber (if he is not playing at attack).
7. The expectations are high for Jordan Evans.
The expectations were high for Evans coming into Syracuse, and those expectations have definitely not gone away. Here's what I want, I want Jordan Evans to develop into more of a ball handler. I want to see him become the new quarterback. It is a tall order, but if he can turn himself into more of an on-ball threat it will allow Donahue to do what he is best at: moving off-ball and getting open. We saw sparks of his talent last year, and I do expect him to come into his own.
8. This team will have to be led by the defense.
Considering last year's play at the defensive end, which at times was stellar and at times a mind-boggling disaster, I'm a little surprised that the defense may be the best part of this team. An improved Warren Hill, a good defensive midfield grouping, a more seasoned Brandon Mullins, a solid LSM crew and a cast of newbies and returners including Jay McDermott, Bobby Tait, and Ralph D'Agostino could actually combine to form one of the better ACC defenses. This year is not about big hits and physical play. Instead it will be about the quickness of the slides, the defensive communication, and one-on-one matchups.
On the 2016 personnel:
"...it's been a challenge for us this fall to first of all figure out who we are between the newcomers, transfers, freshman, and the guys who are returning and trying to piece some things together at the offensive end of the field and we're starting to get there. Certainly this next few weeks is going to tell us a lot and I think as we go forward you're going to see some changes during the season..."
On being ready to compete with the top teams in the country:
"This is Syracuse University so we feel we can compete against anybody. But you know I think experience wise, we don't have that at the offensive end of the field so we are probably going to be relying on our experience defensively and our goaltending and our faceoff to get us more possessions so that we can bring that offense along..."
On the goalie situation and Warren Hill:
"There is so much to learn at the division I level... and our scrimmages down south I thought he did a terrific job..."
"Warren has just come in and really kind of taken over, a different goalie than he was a year ago."
"Yeah, I think coming out of the fall Warren's the starter."
On the incoming freshman at defense:
"And I feel, defensively, the incoming class is very talented. They really made some impressions on us this fall and some freshman have a great opportunity to play."
On Nick Mellen:
"...great feet, just a really good athlete, really quick"
On Jonah Swigart and Austin Fusco being part of that good group of freshman:
"Certainly there with Firman and Fusco. Fusco redshirted last year, was a high school All-American in the poll position so counting red shirt freshman, those guys are there in that group too"
On the midfield:
"It's pretty much wide open. There's a bunch of freshman, I think, in the midfield, there aren't really that many guys who have really stepped ahead of one another. I wouldn't be surprised to see us mixing and matching with some attackmen coming up and playing the midfield and visa versa, going down the other way. We haven't figured that all out yet."
On Ben Williams:
"We're toying with using Ben a little bit more offensively and defensively...Ben is very athletic, he's got good speed, he can shoot the ball on the run, he's been working on that quite a bit in the offseason."
"Especially with Cal right behind him it would be nice to use Ben offensively and even defensively a little bit, maybe keep their guy on the field if he wins the faceoff offensively. And now even if he gets winded with Cal Paduda being able to come in right behind him we think we have a great one-two punch there and it gives us the ability, like I said, to do a lot of things with Ben that maybe a lot of teams don't do with their faceoff guys."
On Ben Williams' Injury:
On the faceoff position:
"It's very comfortable."
"Cal Paduda is right behind him. Ben didn't play this fall so Cal got a lot of experience and was right behind Ben last year and had some tremendous experience this fall so we feel like we've got some depth at that position."
On Nick Mariano:
"He's shown us an ability to dodge and to finish the ball. We are still trying to figure him out, whether we use him in the midfield or attack remains to be see."
On Jordan Evans:
"The expectations were very high...We ran him at attack a lot this fall...we're not leaving the option out that he can't go back to midfield, but you know I think he had a very good fall there."
"I think that we'll start with him there [at attack] right now, and we'll see in the next few weeks...how that all pans out. I've got high expectations for him, as he does for himself."
On Dylan Donahue:
"The one guy returning that's going to be in the scouting report, he's certainly going to be a focus. I think that we don't want to change him too much, we're obviously going to want him to carry the ball more than he did last year..."
"He [Donahue] was getting the second and third guy last year, this year he'll get the first guy. But we don't want to put all that weight on his shoulders because he is so good at doing everything else..."
On who will play midfield and attack:
"Time will tell. We've got some options, but we've got a lot of guys playing both positions right now..."