In a season of question marks for the Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team, there is no uncertainty that looms larger than the defensive end of the field.
Coming off a nightmare season in which they surrendered a horrifying 14.71 goals per game, good for 66th out of 72 teams in the country, the coaching staff has a lot of work to do to figure out how to make big changes.
Gary Gait has already mentioned how Dave Pietramala has made changes in practice, saying this a couple weeks ago:
“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.”
It’s definitely not a surprise to hear about a renewed focus on communication, chemistry, and simplifying scheme concepts after the struggles we witnessed last season. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays itself out for a unit that has a lot of new faces, but also a lot of returners.
By far the most veteran unit on the team is the defensive midfield, which returns all of its starters from last season in junior LSM Saam Olexo (No. 48) flanked by redshirt junior SSDM Brandon Aviles (No. 43) and sophomore SSDM Carter Rice (No. 12). They form a solid group who all appeared in every game last season and largely performed pretty well considering how much defense was a struggle overall.
Olexo had a breakout season taking over the starting LSM position, finishing with 46 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers. The ground ball total was second-best on the team, with the best obviously being FOGO Jakob Phaup. His 16 CTs were third-best on the team. He also scored four goals in transition on the season.
Aviles and Rice are a good duo at shortie for the Orange, a position that’s not been great in recent years outside of Peter Dearth. Aviles has been an impact shortie since his true freshman season in 2020, and last year finished fifth on the team in both ground balls (32) and caused turnovers (9). Rice had 14 GBs and two CTs in his own impactful true freshman season.
There are also a number of good candidates to provide depth for the defensive midfield on this team. The backup LSM will be an interesting competition since last year’s backup, Landon Clary, has since moved down to close defense. It looks like redshirt junior Michael Page (No. 4) and freshman Dylan Sageder (No. 42) might be the top candidates to give Olexo a rest. Page appeared in three games last year, while Sageder was an Under Armour All-American and is ranked as the No. 38 overall freshman in the class.
At shortie, captain Max Rosa (No. 10) returns after picking up 14 ground balls and causing five turnovers last season in just 10 games. There are also a handful of newcomers to watch out for, including transfers Jake Murphy (No. 16) from LIU and Joe Bolea (No. 44) from Kenyon College, as well as freshman Vinnie Trujillo (No. 18).
It’s a completely different story on close defense, where very little experience returns. The only players back with experience are sophomore Nick Caccamo (No. 28) and junior Nick Fraterrigo (No. 25). Caccamo is the top returner at close having finished last year 13th in the nation at 1.77 caused turnovers per game. He led the team with 24 CTs, and finished third with 39 ground balls. Fraterrigo made three starts and appeared in six games last year.
Joining them will be redshirt sophomore Landon Clary (No. 30), who’s moving down from LSM to fill the greater position of need for this team. Clary played well in the final nine games last year after returning from injury, when he mostly served as the team’s backup LSM. He’s in the mix to start on close this year.
Redshirt sophomore and captain Caden Kol (No. 33) is in line for a playing time bump after serving on the Orange’s man-down unit last season, appearing in nine games. He’s another candidate to start at close.
Finally, there are four true freshman defenders in the mix this year: Riley Figueiras (No. 11), Chuck Kuczynski (No. 26), Billy Dwan (No. 35) and Jordan Beck (No. 41).
Figueiras, the No. 6 overall ranked freshman, would absolutely be a factor in this defense due to his elite one-on-one cover skills. The problem is, I’m not sure of his status after an injury that he picked up in the fall that left him on crutches. There were rumors about a medical redshirt, but I haven’t seen any news about it.
Losing Figueiras would be an unfortunate blow, but if that’s the case, Billy Dwan comes in with a lot of hype as the No. 11 overall ranked freshman in the class. Both Dwan and Beck provide intriguing options for this defense from a size and stature standpoint. Both are listed at 6’4”, with Dwan at 210 pounds and Beck at 220.