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Syracuse men’s lacrosse: Vermont preview

The 2023 season is ready to face-off. Let’s get it!

Welcome to the 2023 Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse season, ladies and gentlemen!!

Gary Gait and the boys are back for season number two of the brand new regime, and they are looking for bigger and better results than last year’s 4-10 season that marked the worst win-loss record in program history.

The quest for a turnaround starts today when SU hosts the Vermont Catamounts in the Dome opener at 1 PM on ACC Network Extra. This is the second-ever meeting between the two programs, with the first one coming back in 2021 when ‘Cuse defeated UVM, 17-13.

While there are plenty of question marks and fresh faces as we head into the new season, there’s a renewed sense of optimism that the program is ready to start the climb back to prominence, and no reason for that is greater than the presence of the incoming, No. 1 ranked freshman class.

Joey Spallina is a name you might have heard once or twice. He’s the new No. 22, and he’s not alone. Finn Thomson is one to watch, as well, and he’ll be wearing No. 23. Michael Leo (No. 7) and Luke Rhoa (No. 8) are two others, and the list goes on.

We’ve also got a bunch of transfers (Alex Simmons No. 19, Cole Kirst No. 40, Will Mark No. 88) who are sure to make a big impacts. Oh, and Owen Hiltz is back from injury to dazzle us all once again.

This offense promises to be fun to watch, but if the Orange are going to get on the turnaround trail this season, it needs to start out well against Vermont.

X-Factor in Game One

If Syracuse is going to win the season opener, it looks like it may well come down to one gigantic factor: face-offs.

We all know that Jakob Phaup has exhausted his eligibility, leaving the Orange with a huge hole to fill at the X. It looks like Canisius transfer Johnny Richiusa (No. 45) will be the first man up to replace him, but he may not be the only man up. SU has to replace a whopping 419 face-offs that Phaup took last season, and that is likely to fall on the shoulders of more than one person. If that’s the case, look for sophomore Jack Fine (No. 38) and freshman Gavin Gibbs (No. 24) to get some reps, as well.

It goes deeper than ‘Cuse’s depth chart, though, as they are going up against one of the best FOGOs in the country right out of the gates in Vermont’s Tommy Burke.

Burke was an honorable mention All-American last year after winning an outstanding 61.4 percent of his restarts. He was also, just like Phaup, and iron man himself for the Catamounts. He took 438 face-offs last year, and is very used to taking every FO in a college game, unlike the Orange FOGOs.

Two years ago, Burke took every face-off against SU and dominated against Phaup and Danny Varello. He went 24-of-34 at the X, including 15-of-21 against Phaup. If the Orange FOGOs can’t hold their own, which isn’t too hard to imagine, it could be trouble time for ‘Cuse in this game.

Imagine a world in which the Catamounts are playing make-it-take-it because Burke is dominating at X and the new-look Orange defense is struggling to make stops just like last year. That is Vermont’s rather simple (not necessarily easy, but simple) blueprint to how they win this game.

If SU can’t figure out a way to slow down Burke, then they’re going to have to find a way to get a solid mix of creating turnovers and simply getting stops to prevent UVM from putting a crooked number on the board.

It would also be just lovely if the Orange FOGOs could muck up the face-offs enough to get some easier possessions to the offense, because I think this ‘Cuse offense has a chance to put up their own crooked number on a Vermont defense replacing their starting goalie from last year.

Face-offs are, of course, always an important, ‘X’-factor in every lacrosse game. However, it seems especially important in a game when a young, new Syracuse roster is playing a game together for the first time. It’s even more important when you worry about how the Orange defense will perform coming off last season.

I think we’re looking at a game to start the season where face-offs will play an even more important role than normal. Let’s hope Johnny Richiusa and company can get some possessions for us, because I’m chomping at the bit to watch all these fun, new pieces on offense. Let’s Go Orange!!!