Let’s start with the tricky part first.
With a Syracuse Orange team and roster that is so new, and a head coach like Gary Gait who likes to be fluid with the way he utilizes his pieces on offense, it can be difficult to predict positional groups for a new season.
That being said, I'm going to take a look at the individuals who I’m anticipating will play a big role as attackers for this year’s team, starting with the trio that it looks like will be in the starting lineup this Saturday.
Owen Hiltz — Redshirt Sophomore, No. 77
I’m beginning with Hiltz because he’s the only player of the primary attack options who was actually in the program last season, even though he wasn’t on the field due to his preseason injury.
The last time we saw Owen in a SU uniform, he was showing us a completely unique skill set that makes him one of the most dangerous attackers in the country. Simply put, the guy has a high lacrosse IQ, incredible field vision, and sniper-like passing and shooting skills. He will be a conductor operating on the left side for this offense.
Joey Spallina — Freshman, No. 22
You’ve probably heard that there’s a new No. 22 in town.
Joey Spallina is the name on the tip of everyone’s tongue when it comes to this year’s Syracuse team. There are few players who have arrived on this campus in many years that can match the level of excitement, expectation and pressure that will greet him as his career gets underway as the likely primary X attackman for this offense.
All indications are that he’ll be ready to meet those expectations. He’s not just a player that has seemingly every lacrosse tool or skill in his toolbox, but also has the work ethic and demeanor befitting of someone who will have the spotlight on him at all times. He won’t shy away from it, and he won’t let it get to him.
For anyone who hasn't seen him play yet, he’s going to provide a lot of exciting moments for Orange fans.
Alex Simmons — Graduate Student, No. 19
Simmons comes in as a transfer after a strong undergraduate career at Denver, scoring 129 points (81 G, 48 A) in 50 career games (33 starts).
He’s hails from Ontario and actually played one season of high school lacrosse with Owen Hiltz when the pair were at Culver Military Academy, so it’s exciting to have that familiarity between two of our attackmen.
Playing on the same line as Hiltz and Spallina, Simmons is likely to utilize his skills as a strong off-ball player who can find the open space and score when his teammates find him. He’s a typical Canadian player with a good ability to finish inside and in tight space. That’s a skill that will go a long way in this offense.
Finn Thomson — Freshman, No. 23
Finn is listed as an attackman on the SU athletics website, but has played a lot of midfield from what I understand so far with so many other great options as attack. But I definitely wanted to mention him here with this group.
Tall and slight of frame (6’1”, 160), Finn’s another player who possesses all the skills to be an offensive star for this program. Listed as the No. 5 overall recruit in this year’s freshman class, he’s definitely getting overshadowed by Spallina from a hype standpoint. But I would not be surprised to see No. 23 make just as big an impact as his more talked-about teammate, whether it’s at attack or midfield.
Cole Kirst — Graduate Student, No. 40
Cole is listed as a midfielder on the roster, but played his entire four-year career at Lehigh as an attackman.
I guess he’ll be playing midfield, but with his experience, I would not be surprised to see him do some inverting this season, especially if he’s drawing shortie matchups. He’s very good at attacking behind the cage, so I’m sure they’ll try to find that matchup throughout the season.
He’s a natural leader, evidenced by the fact that he was named one of five team captains this season in his first and only year in the program. He’ll add a perfect touch of experience and leadership to this young offense.
Jackson Birtwistle — Redshirt Sophomore, No. 9
Also listed as a midfielder on the roster, I feel I have to mention Jackson here because of what we saw from him late last year.
He burst onto the scene like a man on fire at the end of the year, scoring 13 goals in the season’s final four games, including a whopping five in an incredible effort against Virginia.
Jackson is the perfect player to compliment guys like Hiltz and Spallina in this offense, because he plays 90% of the time without the ball in his stick. He’s the quintessential catch-and-shoot guy, which he did with remarkable efficiency in limited chances last season. I could easily see him playing the role of inside attacker in the vein of a Stephen Keogh from years past.
He shot 14-of-29 (.483) last year. If he shoots like that again this spring, then Gait is going to have a tough time keeping him off the field.
Other guys who could potentially factor here include Michael Leo, who is yet another player listed as a midfielder but played attack in high school at St. Anthony’s on Long Island. I think we’ll probably see Michael starting at midfield, but I wanted to mention him here because of his background.
Redshirt sophomore John Cohen, sophomore Finn Kelly, redshirt junior Brett Tenaglia, and redshirt freshman Blake Erlbeck are also listed as attackers on the roster.