Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse fans are ready for a return to prominence.
Beyond ready. Ready and waiting, you might say. That’s what happens when the most decorated program in NCAA men’s lacrosse history goes six years without winning a single NCAA tournament game, and a decade without making it to Memorial Day weekend.
That wait will go on, as this Sunday, the Orange are going to miss the tournament for the second straight year after finishing the season with a technically-eligible 8-7 record.
But while the wait for the return to national prominence goes on for another year, the outlook has gotten brighter for the first time in a long time about what lies ahead.
And that’s because the 2023 Orange accomplished exactly what they needed to coming off a 4-10 season and looking to finally get back in the national conversation: getting the trajectory of the program pointed back up.
How did they do it? It started with a big-time raising of the talent-level bar from 2022 to 2023. Last year’s overall talent pool was as shallow as we’ve ever seen it, but the No. 1 recruiting class and a solid group of veteran transfers started to fill it back up in a hurry.
From there, it was all about gaining experience as both individuals and as a team. This roster was new in so many ways. They needed to figure out how to gel as a group, and they needed to learn how to win the difficult games at the highest level.
It was never going to be an easy task for such a young and new team playing against the hardest schedule in the country, according to the NCAA’s SOS, to come away with much success. And that proved to be the case, as the Orange stumbled through their first five games of the season against ranked competition, losing all five. They came frustratingly close a few times, most notably against Duke and Johns Hopkins, but they couldn’t get over the hump.
They finally showed us the evidence of their growth with a pair of ranked wins away from home in April against Princeton and North Carolina. Those were the types of close games they lost earlier in the season, but they learned from experience how to overcome and prevail.
BALL GAME.— Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse (@CuseMLAX) April 15, 2023
Michael Leo heroics and the Orange hang on for the 15-14 win.#HHH x #LikeNoOther pic.twitter.com/UCGTAa8ihN
They dropped their final two games against two of the best teams in the country, but anyone who watched this team all season knows they improved and grew up over the course of the last three months.
That’s exactly what we needed out of this year’s team; for them to be the group that transitioned this program back in the direction of success. And as we reflect on this year and look ahead to next, we know where we stand at the moment:
The face-offs were a disaster. The defense was overworked and needs more depth. Will Mark was incredible, especially given what he had to do. The offense blossomed behind a young, exciting core that brings fun, creative and productive scoring back to the Dome.
And while the Orange will lose a few key contributors, the vast majority of this team will be back next season to make sure the positive momentum continues. The defense will add some highly-ranked pieces to give them the added depth and talent they require. The offense, too, will add some talented pieces that should contribute right away.
The big question, of course, remains with the face-offs. But we already have a 4-star FOGO as part of the incoming recruiting class, and he will almost certainly be supplemented with an addition from the transfer portal. Do either of those things guarantee great success at the dot next year? Of course not, but it would be hard not to be an improvement on this year’s restarts.
The bottom line is that the quality of this roster, and this program, is once again on the rise.
We all want to be gearing up for the tournament this year as we enter into May. But as they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built (or re-built) in a day’. The road back to national prominence is a long and winding one, and it could only start with a step (or two) in the right direction.
That’s exactly what the ultimate success of this team is all about.