If you can believe it, we’re actually now less than three weeks away from the start of the 2023 season for the Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team.
Practice officially began last Friday, and on Monday, Gary Gait and some of his players met the media for the first time since the calendar changed to discuss their preparation for the rapidly approaching season.
Let’s take a look at the wide range of topics that Gary covered during his session and what specifically he had to say about his team.
On how it feels to be back at practice:
“It’s been awesome. Three days of practice and, you know, the energy level is incredible and the attitude is impressive. We’ve got a lot to work on, but the guys are eager to get after it and become better than they were the day before, so they’re working hard and we’re excited”.
On the difference at the start of this year versus the start of last year:
“I think the biggest difference is that we know who we are and we know what we’re about, and we know what we need to do to have success. You know, last year everything was kind of new. It was a group of players that had a different coaching staff, and then with that change we were both [players and coaches] looking at each other not knowing what to expect. And I think this year really we’ve communicated really well with the players, and they’ve communicated with us, and I think we’ve set our standards for the program and these guys are happy with them and ready to roll”.
I thought it was interesting the way Gary described the difference a year has had on the feeling within the program heading into the season. Multiple times throughout the session, he emphasized how aligned the staff and players are with everything they’re doing, and how he feels that will go a long way for the success of this team.
He also talked about the importance of the learning experience that last year was despite how unhappy everyone was with the results. It certainly makes sense that everyone within the program would be more aligned in year two versus trying to get themselves calibrated in year one.
On the changes for Coach Pietramala’s defense heading into this season:
“I think he’s simplified some of the concepts and some of the things he’s doing. There’s a real focus on communication and developing chemistry, so you’ll see a different team out there. Not just the players [being different], but the way they play, as well.”
I think we all know that this is a big one. All season long last year, the lack of communication on defense led to brutal breakdowns and some very ugly numbers being put up by SU’s opponents. Communication and chemistry are king for a defense, especially in Pietramala’s complicated system. Interesting to hear that he has perhaps simplified some things to allow for a young defense to adjust.
On how the offense looks with so many new pieces this year:
“You know, I’ve been impressed. The willingness to move the ball, the ‘one more’ concept, it’s there right now. And it’s our job as coaches to keep that going. You know, lots of times, it’s easy to do in practice and hard to do in games, so that’s what we’re going to wait and see. But these guys are buying into the team concept. They understand that they need everybody to be successful, so everybody needs to get touches and everybody needs opportunities, and it’s about moving that ball ‘one more’ to get the best shot that the team can get”.
We heard about it in the fall and saw some quick clips of it from the team’s fall-ball scrimmages down at Loyola, but I love how much I’m hearing and the little I’m seeing about the ‘team concept’ and constant, quick ball movement with the ultimate goal being the best shot possible. Obviously, that should be the goal of every offense, so time will tell, but I really believe what I’m hearing about this offense and their team-first approach to putting up points. Here’s just a quick example of why I feel that way from the Loyola scrimmage:
:52.1 Q2: This is a play that will get @CuseMLAX fans excited: Finn Thomson & Michael Leo slipped pick up to, Hiltz give&go with Thomson with a one-more touch pass to Spallina for the backside dunk.— Terry Foy (@TerenceFoy) October 23, 2022
Spallina had an EMO G a minute ago, I think it’s 7-5. pic.twitter.com/y62LO0ZX6s
On Owen Hiltz:
“It’s nice to see him on the field, I can tell you that. He had a very good fall, and I think the players that we have this year fit into his style. You know, he can throw a no-look pass or a skip from one side to the other, and he knows that the players that he has on the field will be ready for it. And, I think, that it’ll go both ways. I think you’re going to see some passes, some shots, some plays that are going to be plays that we couldn’t make last year that we’ll make this year because of him”.
If you’re not already, you might want to start getting excited now about Owen Hiltz, because he’s coming back and he’s bringing all his tricks with him. I can’t wait to see No. 77 out on the field again for the Orange. And to help prime that excitement, here’s a few clips of him from the Loyola scrimmage. Yes, he is the one throwing all the cross-field, skip passes:
If you’re a fan of team offense, these are the highlights for you. ( @dan_aburn_) https://t.co/NPDruyI3Vi pic.twitter.com/Xdh4KuPjdA— Inside Lacrosse (@Inside_Lacrosse) October 25, 2022
On a different approach to player health this season:
“We’ve really focused on reducing our injuries, going through the science of it and using our GPS trackers to limit the workload and reduce the soft-tissue injuries and stress on the body. We’re also working on every aspect of recovery that we can, so that our guys stay fresh and they really limit those injuries. I think that’s one of the big focuses I got out of last year, looking down the lineup and seeing 15, 20 guys on the injured list consistently that we needed to do something better and I think we’ve really taken that to heart and we’ve changed the way we practice in order to stay healthy and keep everyone on the field”.
This was interesting to hear, and kind of made me wonder why these things weren’t being done already. There’s no question that staying healthier is important for this year’s team, so hopefully these changes will be beneficial.
On the team-first approach to offense:
“I think they’re all going to help each other be successful. Like I said, they’ve bought into the team concept, and there’s no way one guy’s going to be amazing without the other guys. I think that accolades come through team success, and I know they all buy into that”.
I love the notion that “there’s no way one guy’s going to be amazing without the other guys”. Give me that narrative all day long, Gary.
On Cornell not being on this year’s schedule:
“It was just that Cornell and Syracuse could not find a date that fit for our programs. I wanted to play between two of they Ivy games and he wanted to play between two of our ACC games, so it just didn’t work out and we just shook hands and agreed that we’d come back at it next year. The schedule’s going to change next year; we’re going to go back to playing ACC games one opponent, one time. And that’ll free up a couple more weekends and give us and opportunity to get Cornell back and make a couple more adjustments to the schedule”.
Okay, fair enough. So, it sounds like next year we can hopefully look forward to not only playing Cornell again, but getting back to a one-game only versus ACC teams schedule.
On the goalie situation at this point:
“We haven’t announced any starters yet. Certainly, we have some goalies that are making some impact right now. I believe Will Mark’s been named a preseason All-American, and he’s going to get an opportunity. We have HT (Harrison Thompson) returning, who played last year, and we have freshman Jimmy McCool, whose been looking really good. So, we have some talent in the net, I think, and hopefully we can bump up our save percentage about 10 percent, and that comes from improving on the defensive end and giving that goalie support, whoever it is”.
Here’s a look at Gary’s entire media session for those who want to hear from the man himself:
(Ed. note: During the season we will ask Gary if he’ll relax his style on the sideline and maybe toss on an Otto trucker hat like Kayla Treanor)