Welcome back to our continuing coverage of Rivalry Week(s). Today, we’re focusing on the Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse program, who occupies a unique space in the Syracuse rivalry Rolodex.
As we’ve already covered, fans of the football and men’s basketball teams know all too well the rivalry situation for SU’s two most popular teams is muddled at best. In fact, a lack of early conference affiliation coupled with mass conference realignment in the 21st century has led most Orange teams to a place where they struggle to identify a rival.
That’s not the case for the men's lacrosse team.
If you polled Syracuse lacrosse fans about who the team’s biggest rival is or who they want to beat the most every year the majority are going to simply answer: Hopkins.
Yes, the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. An answer that stands out in the SU rivalry discussion, mostly because men’s and women’s lacrosse are the only two sports for which Hopkins competes at the D-I level.
The Blue Jays are neither SU’s oldest nor their most consistent opponent, yet they find themselves at the top of Orange fans’ most wanted list. How did they get there?
In Syracuse and Hopkins, we are talking about the two winningest programs in college lacrosse history. They rank No. 1 & 2 in program wins (Hopkins 992, SU 917) and national championships (SU 11, Hopkins 9). When you look at the best rivalries in sports, the one thing they all have in common is overall success outside of the individual matchup. And no one has had more success than these two. Just ask SU alum and ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra:
Yankees v Red Sox, Lakers v Celtics, Ohio State v Michigan...in lacrosse we call it Syracuse v Johns Hopkins! @ESPNU today at 2pm!— Paul Carcaterra (@paulcarcaterra) March 14, 2015
In the early days of this matchup, however, Syracuse wasn’t having too much success. The Orange lost nine of the first 11 games between these two, and it got so bad that Hopkins no longer thought it was worth it to continue to schedule Syracuse.
So they didn’t.
In fact, in a 15 year period starting in the late 1960s, Hopkins and Syracuse only met once in a 13-goal defeat for SU.
Then came the 1983 National Championship game. No.1 seeded Johns Hopkins vs. No. 2 seeded Syracuse.
Despite the high seed, the Orange were massive underdogs going up against the powerhouse Blue Jays, and the outlook got much worse when SU found themselves down 12-5 midway through the third quarter. But a furious rally led the Orange to their first NCAA title in spectacular fashion, coming back for the 17-16 victory.
That comeback meant more than just a first NCAA crown. In overcoming the best team in the sport (at the time), the Orange put themselves on the map and on a trajectory that has brought them to the top of the lacrosse world. It earned them Hopkins’s respect, to the point where SU and Hopkins have met every year since that ‘83 National Championship.
Additionally, they’ve met 13 times in the NCAA tournament, including eight matchups on Memorial Day weekend. That’s the most postseason games against any opponent for Syracuse.
So, to recap, we’ve got the two most successful programs in the sport, who have played each other every year since a seminal moment in Syracuse lacrosse history, with almost a quarter of their all-time matchups (13 of 59) coming in postseason play.
That adds up to lacrosse’s equivalent of Michigan-Ohio State or Duke-Carolina.
Now, if you’re the kind of person who believes in having multiple rivals, then you’ve come to the right team. Outside of Hopkins, Syracuse has a number of fellow upstate New York teams with whom they have some serious history.
Let’s start with the Hobart Statesmen, another team whose only D-I sport is lacrosse. Syracuse and Hobart have a history that literally goes all the way back to the very beginning. Hobart was Syracuse’s first ever varsity opponent back in 1916. They played twice in SU’s inaugural season, and the Statesmen won both games by a combined score of 23-1.
After that inauspicious start, however, it’s basically been all Syracuse to the tune of a 78-26-2 all-time advantage. The two have met 106 times overall, the third most common matchup in the sport.
Since 1986, the annual meeting has been played for the Kraus-Simmons trophy, which SU has won 32 of the 35 years its been awarded.
Syracuse-Hobart has basically all the ingredients of a rivalry: geographical proximity, extensive history, trophy game, and genuine dislike. Lest we forget three years ago when the Orange rolled into Geneva:
We've arrived at Hobart.— Syracuse Lacrosse (@CuseMLAX) April 5, 2017
(Via @Chilltoplax) pic.twitter.com/FdorDFKZ8H
Yes, that was a group of Hobart fans throwing an egg at the Syracuse team bus.
Here’s the one hangup on the Syracuse-Hobart rivalry: competitiveness. While it’s pretty clear how Hobart fans feel about Syracuse, can the same really be said in the other direction? How much disdain can you really feel when you’ve only lost to a team three times since the mid-1980s?
While it has been one-sided for a long time, calling this a rivalry still seems fair when you have this much history and play for a trophy. It also definitely helps Syracuse’s motivation that the Simmons family (Roy Simmons Jr. being the trophy’s namesake) is still so ingrained in the program. At the very least, it’s a game that means a great deal to both schools.
The other team worth mentioning based on shared history is the Cornell Big Red. The Orange and Big Red started their series all the way back in 1920 and have played 105 times, tied for the fourth longest rivalry in lacrosse history.
Like with Hobart, the geographical proximity coupled with the long history make Cornell another good rivalry candidate. But can they qualify when we’ve already got Hopkins and Hobart in the mix? Is it fair to just call them a long-standing, geographically close opponent who isn’t a “rival”?
Time will have to tell if any of our ACC brethren can take up the mantle of rival. Or do we even need them to since our rivalry dance card is already pretty full?
The Virginia Cavaliers seems to be the strongest candidate of our conference foes, since the Orange and Cavs have played each other as closely as possible over the years. If you’ve never heard this stat before, it’s quite a doozy:
In 36 matchups, SU and Virginia are tied 18-18 having scored the exact same amount of goals at 466 a piece.
That’s Duke-Carolina basketball levels of competitiveness. And with 17 one-goal games, just under half of their all-time matchups have been decided by the thinest margins.
What do you guys think? Do you see a future in which any of our ACC foes work their way up to rival level? Or how about some other New York teams like Albany or Army? Who do you think has more rival credentials between Hobart and Cornell? Let us know in the comments section!