Deep breath, everyone!
So that wasn’t exactly what we were all hoping to see, but in the end the Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team came away from their season opener in the JMA Dome with a 7-5 victory over the Vermont Catamounts.
It was just an absolute mess of a game from start to finish; a game that saw more than three times as many turnovers as goals. It was the kind of slop-fest that you might expect from a season opening game, featuring questionable decision making, very inconsistent offense, and the lacrosse ball spending more time bouncing around the Dome turf than nestled in anybody’s pocket.
The star of the game by far was new goalie Will Mark, the transfer from LIU. Mark had an excellent game in his Orange debut, saving almost everything that came his way with both his stick and his body. He finished with 13 saves and a 72.2 save percentage while only surrendering the five goals — an ACC Defensive Player of the Week performance if I do say so myself.
Most importantly, Mark was the one consistency on a day when everything else was in utter chaos for ‘Cuse. Time and again, Mark picked up his teammates who had committed a bad turnover or failed on a clear attempt to given Vermont an extra possession and an extra look at the cage.
He stood tall and helped earn this win for his team, but he didn’t do it all by himself. The defense in front of him put in a markedly better performance than what we became used to as the season wore on last year. Saam Olexo had an especially good game knocking the ball loose and even made sure the first goal of the season for SU was a pole goal. And the starting close defense of Nick Caccamo, Landon Clary, and Caden Kol all had good contributions on the day.
It certainly wasn’t perfect; they struggled at times to scoop up ground balls in the 50/50 game and the clearing game was a mess. But overall, it’s a solid performance for a defense with a lot of new pieces to start with.
Canisius transfer Johnny Richiusa deserves credit for fighting hard against one of the best FOGOs in the country in Tommy Burke. It wasn’t a great statistical day for Richiusa in his Orange debut, but he didn’t let Burke dominate all day long like we feared, and that’s exactly what the team needed from him.
For the offense, it was just one giant day of inconsistency as the new unit, which has undeniable talent all over the field, struggled to come together in their first ever game together. I’m not going to bother freaking out about that. They struggled with decision making throughout the day, and Joey Spallina definitely felt like he was forcing it for much of the afternoon. Although, the new No. 22 did score a very important goal late in the third to tie up the game and stop a 4-0 Vermont run.
Finn Thomson was the brightest spot on offense today, scoring a goal and dishing out two beautiful assists (one of them in BTB fashion). Jackson Birtwistle had two goals, and Alex Simmons added a goal and an assist. Owen Hiltz also scored a goal and had a pretty good day picking out passes, but none of them were finished off due to a rough shooting day by the Orange and a strong game by Vermont’s goalie.
The game started off in very typical, first-game-of-the-season fashion as both teams racked up the turnover count before anyone found the back of the net. It was over nine minutes before Vermont finally broke through with a goal by #24 as he beat Brandon Aviles near the crease, and that quarter ended with a 1-0 Vermont lead.
After a scoreless first, the Orange wasted no time in lighting up the scoreboard in the second. Saam Olexo started Syracuse’s season scoring with a pole goal off an unsettled situation just under a minute into the period. A few minutes later, Alex Simmons found Jackson Birtwistle for an EMO goal off some nice ball movement.
Finn Thomson then gave his contribution, scoring around a defender on a bad switch by the Vermont defense before throwing a behind-the-back pass to Alex Simmons for the fourth SU goal of the game. A 4-0 second quarter gave the Orange a 4-1 halftime lead.
The third quarter was all Vermont, as Tommy Burke came out and dominated face-offs to help fuel a 4-0 run to start the half and give the Catamounts a 5-4 lead. Meanwhile, the Orange struggled to maintain any possession and spent the bulk of the quarter on the defensive. Joey Spallina salvaged the quarter by getting on the board for his first career goal with 37 second left in the third, coming off a Finn Thomson pick and coming up from X to beautifully finish it home.
‘Cuse broke the tie just over a minute into the fourth on a nice move and twizzle pass by Finn Thomson to find Birtwistle on the far side of the crease for a slam dunk. About halfway though the fourth, Owen Hiltz fired home a shot from 10 yards out for his first goal to give SU the two-goal cushion, 7-5, that would end up as the final score.