For the second straight season, the Syracuse Orange were bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round as they fell to the Loyola Greyhounds 15-13 Saturday afternoon in Maryland. It was the first time since 2012 the Orange were unseeded and on the road for their first round matchup.
With the loss, that puts a bow on the 2019 season as well as the decade.
Looking Back At The 2019 Season
We’ll start with this season. The Orange finished 9-5 on the season and 2-2 in ACC conference play. Syracuse was bounced early from both postseason tournaments by North Carolina (ACC) and Loyola (NCAA) due to defensive collapses in the second half. The Orange d also collapsed in the fourth quarter of their ACC conference opener at home against Virginia where they let a three-goal lead slip away in overtime.
But when they weren’t falling apart, they were a very solid unit. Nick Mellen was an Inside Lacrosse Second Team Media All-American, LSM Brett Kennedy was a Third Team choice, while SSDM Peter Dearth, an Honorable Mention choice, proved to be one of the best shorties in college lacrosse and was also a threat on transition offense along with Kennedy with six goals and one assist. Junior Drake Porter was a stud in goal for the entire season outside of the first half against Notre Dame where he gave up 11 goals in those 30 minutes. Overall, the defense finished 17th in the NCAA in goals allowed at 10.14 per game.
Offensively, the numbers don’t flash out when you see them despite scoring 12.86 goals per game (15th in the country) and having the third-best man-up unit at 48%. There wasn’t a 50-point scorer for the second straight season or even a 45-point scorer. Bradley Voigt finished the year leading the Orange with 35 goals and 44 points. Last year’s top point getter, Stephen Rehfuss, only had one assist in his first three games due to the flu and ankle injuries. He rebounded with a team-best 21 assists and only had one other game where he registered just one point (a goal against Notre Dame).
While the attack was doing their thing, the highlight of the offense was up top at midfield. Even without Tucker Dordevic for the entire season, Jamie Trimboli, Brendan Curry, and David Lipka make an impact on the first midfield unit. Trimboli and Curry each registered 33 points with the Trimboli leading all midfielders with 24 goals and Curry leading all middies with 14 assists. Lipka added 24 points, but right behind him was sophomore Jacob Buttermore. Buttermore didn’t even play the first game of the season (which still confuses me) and finished with 20 goals and three assists. He did get some runs on the first midfield line during games as well.
But after Buttermore, no other player registered at least 10 points. The closest was freshman Griffin Cook, who was a part of the second midfield. His best game was scoring two goals and one assists against Rutgers when he and Solomon switched roles on the offense. After Dearth and Kennedy, the next offensive scorer was Pat Carlin with three goals and one assist.
Finally at the faceoff X, Jake Phaup took the majority of the draws from Danny Varello, but both finished the season above 50%. But faceoffs became a problem in the final two games with UNC and Loyola edging the Orange in that department and changing the momentum of the game. For the majority of the season, head coach John Desko put a long stick on each side for better chances of scooping up ground balls and winning the draw. Kennedy (44 GBs) and Jared Fernandez (36 GBs) did just that.
Was this season a failure? Considering that the Orange began the season in the 10-12 range, and especially after all of our overreactions after the loss to Colgate in the season-opener, no. But it wasn’t a success either. It was fine. I’d consider 2018 more of a successful year given the mumps outbreak destroying the majority of the team’s fall and the squad being young. Going undefeated in ACC regular season play is a huge accomplishment. This year, nothing that big. Best win was against Duke in overtime. Nothing really to heavily praise to be quite honest.
Looking Back at the Last Decade
Here’s a look at the year-by-year record of the Orange:
- 2010: 13-2 (6-0 in Big East, Big East champs (no postseason conference tournament)), lost at home to Army in NCAA First Round
- 2011: 15-2 (6-0 in Big East, Big East champs (no postseason conference tournament)), lost to Maryland in NCAA Quarterfinals
- 2012: 9-8 (3-3 in Big East, won Big East Championship), lost on road to Duke in NCAA First Round
- 2013: 16-4 (5-1 in Big East, won Big East Championship), lost to Duke in NCAA National Championship
- 2014: 11-5 (2-3 in ACC, lost to Notre Dame in ACC Championship), lost at home to Bryant in NCAA First Round
- 2015: 13-3 (2-2 in ACC, won ACC Championship), lost to Johns Hopkins in NCAA Quarterfinals
- 2016: 12-5 (2-2 in ACC, won ACC Championship), lost to Maryland in NCAA Quarterfinals
- 2017: 13-3 (4-0 in ACC, lost to North Carolina in ACC semifinals), lost to Towson in NCAA Quarterfinals
- 2018: 8-7 (4-0 in ACC, lost to Virginia in ACC semifinals), lost at home to Cornell in NCAA First Round
- 2019: 9-5 (2-2 in ACC, lost to North Carolina in ACC Opening Round), lost on road to Loyola in NCAA First Round
- Overall Record: 119-44 (.730 win percentage)
- Regular Season Record: 112-34 (.767 win percentage)
- Conference Record (Big East & ACC, including conference tournaments): 45-17 (.726 win percentage)
- Big East Conference Record (including Big East Tournament): 24-4 (.857 win percentage)
- ACC Conference Record (including ACC Tournament): 21-13 (.618 win percentage)
- NCAA Tournament Record: 7-10 (.412 win percentage)
The Orange have dominated the regular season throughout the decade winning over 76% of their games. But the NCAA Tournament has been a different story with five losses in the first round, including the last two seasons.
Syracuse’s best season came in 2013 with their only Championship Weekend appearance before falling to eventual conference rival Duke. The Orange had chances of making the final four as well in 2011, 2015, and 2017 but had those opportunities slip away.
While the decade started with the Orange atop the college lacrosse ranks after winning back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009, Syracuse has since been passed by programs such as Denver, Duke, Loyola, and Yale. Even programs like Brown, Ohio State, Penn State, and Towson had sensational seasons during the decade that were better than the Orange. Syracuse has found themselves competing with Albany, Army West Point, Colgate, and Cornell as the best team in the state at times. The Great Danes and Big Red have made it to Championship Weekend as well in the decade, while Army and Colgate have competed tough with the Orange throughout the last 10 seasons and have won conference championships.
Overall, the decade showed that more schools like the ones mentioned as well as Boston University, Marquette, and Utah out west are making college lacrosse a lot more competitive. That doesn’t seem to stop anytime soon with two more schools joining Division I next season (LIU Post, who will rebrand as Long Island University, and Merrimack are transitioning from Division II in July), as well as potential growth out west. The game is changing, and it’s much harder to make it to the quarterfinals than it was 10 years ago.
The Coaching Situation And Looking Ahead To 2020
So the big question on everyone’s mind is if John Desko will be fired. The short answer is no. No way will he be fired after this season.
But that brings me to expectations for next season. It’s still very early (the 2019 season ended two days ago). But from people I’ve talked to and asked them about their expectations for next year, it’s Championship Weekend or bust. And I agree.
Rehfuss is back at attack and should be a threat when healthy. Solomon and Voigt both graduate, leaving two openings there. Could we see Cook move back down to where he played in high school and Owen Seebold join him? Could an incoming freshman like Sean Donnelly make waves in the fall and get playing time as well?
Or maybe options come from midfield. Tucker Dordevic will be back healthy after missing the entire fall and spring with injuries. He can’t wait for next season. Add him as well as the entire first midfield line from this year as well as Buttermore, Lucas Quinn, and Matt Magnan. I’d keep an eye out on Andrew and Justin Kim as well. It’s a good problem to have with so many options, but it’ll take some time to find out the right fit. Could Dordevic and Lipka slide down to attack? Could the midfielders not have set first or second lines and just go with the flow of the game?
A similar situation with the attack will occur at close defense. Mellen is back, but Tyson Bomberry and Marcus Cunningham both graduate. Nick DiPietro redshirted this season and should be a shoe-in for a starting spot. But who could fill the other? The most likely scenario is Grant Murphy, who was a short stick defensive midfielder for pretty much every game except one. And that one game was when he played close defense in place of an injured Bomberry. Jerry Staats, who missed all of this season with an injury, could also be an option.
Kennedy and Fernandez return as LSM options with Austin Fusco leaving. That position is fine but perhaps having a third main body could help. Dearth, Andrew Helmer, and Brett Barlow all return as SSDMs, as well as Dami Oladunmoye who missed all of this season due to being academically ineligible. Maybe we see Logan Dieball a little more at that position.
Phaup, Varello, and Nate Garlow are all returning at faceoff, as well as Porter and Luke Strang in goal. Altogether, there very little excuse for this team to not make it to Philadelphia next season.
A Few Words About the Seniors
If you haven’t seen this yet from Curry after Saturday’s game, you should.
I wanted to touch on some of the seniors since I personally know them from my time with the team. And as much as I’ve criticized the program in the past few months, I have much love and respect for the guys I’ve gotten to know.
Five of them are redshirt-seniors. I came in when they did. Carlin, Cunningham, Fusco, Brad McKinney, and Luke Schwasnick. All of them are great guys that I got to know and were leaders on the team for the last year or two. I wish nothing but the best for them moving forward.
There are a bunch of redshirt-juniors and I’m not entirely sure who will stay and who won’t. Rehfuss, Helmer, and Mellen I think are all staying that played big roles this year. Willie Klan, Nick Martin, Jake Nelson, and Riley O’Sullivan were the four other redshirt-juniors. Again, all good guys.
Now to the non-redshirts. Jonah Swigart didn’t get a ton of playing time in his career and his season ended in the fall with a season-ending injury. But he was still a good glue guy in the locker room and was somebody to be around.
Tyson Bomberry was the first Bomberry I got to know before Brendan Bomberry transferred in my junior year. He is a big guy but a lovable dude. We had a couple of class projects together as well which helped our bond.
Bradley Voigt was a trooper for playing a reserve and man-up role on the offense for his sophomore and junior seasons before finally getting the chance to start his senior year. His unique personality, yearly season beard, and his love for Kodak Black made him one of my favorites to be around.
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I never thought the day would come when I would be done living out my dream. I grew up dreaming of playing for Syracuse. I can’t thank all the people that helped me get here enough. Thank you to my entire family and all the coaches/teammates throughout the years for always pushing and supporting me. To all my teammates, coaches and everyone who has helped me here at Syracuse, thank you. I really can’t put into words how much my time here has meant to me. It’s been a dream come true ❤️
And then finally to Nate Solomon, who I still have listed as “Nathaniel Solomon” in my contacts. Personally speaking, he was one of the top two favorite players I ever got to know while with the program (with Sergio Salcido being the other). Ever since he was a freshman, he rarely never stopped smiling. I joked with him that he’d still smile even if he was being robbed in an alley. He laughed. That’s who he is, always a positive and cheerful guy when he’s in the locker room or outside of lacrosse.
I’ve also gotten to know his parents Neal and Nanci throughout my time at Syracuse and even gotten to know his younger brother Nicky in the process. While I was working the Cornell-’Cuse game back in April, I made a quick trip to the stands to see the Solomons. That was it. Overall an unreal and awesome group of people. Solomon and Bomberry are part of the Boston Cannons and I hope I can see them both play this summer. And I’ll be watching Nicky as well, whether it’s on UNC’s football team (he’s a punter/kicker) or with UNC’s lacrosse team. And he wants to work at ESPN when he graduates (he already knows someone).
Nate has also left his mark in the college lacrosse world. He was really the first big player to come out of Atlanta. And now it’s become a growing hotbed with his brother and others going to Division I schools from that area. His impact on the sport in the Atlanta area should not be overlooked.
That puts a book on the 2019 season. Big things ahead for 2020, but let’s enjoy the summer.
I was a guest of “On The Block” with Brent Axe today. You can listen to the interview here.