With less than two weeks to go before the Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse season officially faces-off on February 3 at home against Vermont, now is the time of year when we’re all daydreaming about the potentially exciting things to come for SU this spring.
It feels even more so this year as the expectation level has been raised around the program in Gary Gait’s third season at the helm.
While familiar names like Joey Spallina, Owen Hiltz, Finn Thomson, Michael Leo, Saam Olexo and Will Mark offer us plenty of reason to be excited heading into the season, there’s a whole cadre of players arriving in the 315 for the first time who we anticipate will play big roles in determining this ‘Cuse team’s ultimate fate.
The expectations for these newcomers are very high given their collective talent and experience, with Inside Lacrosse ranking them as their No. 1 impact transfer class in the country earlier this offseason.
Let’s take another look now as we bear down on the start of the season:
The new pieces are definitely going to have a big impact on the offensive end of the field, where the Orange return big contributors in Spallina, Hiltz, Thomson, Leo, Jackson Birtwistle and Luke Rhoa, but also must replace Cole Kirst, Alex Simmons and Griffin Cook.
Enter Christian Mulé, Kirst’s former teammate at Lehigh, who is a good candidate to replace him as the third attacker along Spallina and Hiltz. Mulé brings a wonderful blend of experience, field vision and willingness to share the ball that should be a major plus for this offense. He’s coming off a career year as a senior in which he finished third in the country in assists per game (2.93) and ninth in points per game (4.87).
The two Princeton transfers, Jake Stevens and Sam English, will both play big roles for a stacked ‘Cuse midfield in potential first-line spots for each. Stevens can also have an impact picking up ground balls as a wing on face-offs as well as scoring goals on the man-up unit. English is a great initiator from midfield when fully healthy. Both have been All-Americans in the past.
Those three are the sure-fire contributors on offense, but there’s a whole list beyond them who have the ability to make an impact if given the chance.
Trey Deere is a freshman attacker with elite finishing skills who could absolutely find a role in an offense filled with distributors. He built a great report this summer playing on the same team as Joey Spallina in the OJLL indoor league up in Canada. Greg Elijah-Brown is an attacker and an OCC transfer who scored an insane 183 points in two years (26 games, 7.04 points per game) for the Lazers. So, I mean, he’s got to find some kind of role, right?
Tucker Kellogg, Tyler McCarthy and Wyatt Hottle are all freshman midfielders who could earn some runs at midfield, as is Joey’s younger brother Jake Spallina who is a very good all-around player.
The Orange’s face-off situation is going to take on a whole new look this season as SU tries to improve their possession and put themselves in better positions to win against top competition.
That all starts with new FOGO import Mason Kohn, who comes to CNY after an incredibly successful career at Division III Tufts. Last season, Mason was named the DIII National FOGO of the Year after winning 71.6 percent of his FOs (255-of-356). He also showed a flare for the dramatic, having one of his best games during the DIII National Championship game with 14 ground balls on 15-of-19 face-offs
He brings an impressive combination of size (6’0”, 209), strength, athleticism and stick skills that should, at the very least, set him up to improve on ‘Cuse’s 41.9 winning percentage at the dot last season.
Mason’s not the only player looking to contribute to an improved FOGO unit. Freshmen John Mullen and Jake Spallina both took face-offs in high school and could help take the burden off Kohn if need be.
All of the FOGO’s are also going to get a big boost from the number of players added to the roster this year who can help out on face-off wings for this team. Jake Stevens, already mentioned, is one of those players with extensive experience in that area. Transfer LSM’s Steven Schmitt and Matt Wright both bring that ground ball ability, as does transfer SSDM Jake Titus.
However it all gets divided up, the FOGO unit is getting a complete makeover in 2024, and it might just be the ultimate key to propelling the Orange back into the national conversation this season.
Schmitt, Wright and Titus are all players who are going to contribute to the improved depth for the Orange defense this season as they join a unit that returns most of its major contributors from last year.
Schmitt and Wright are both LSM’s that can get runs in defensive midfield behind starter Saam Olexo, and two-time DIII All-American (Union) Jake Titus will play a very important role as a SSDM for this team alongside returners Carter Rice, Vinnie Trujillo and others.
The close defense will be thrilled to welcome back the contributions of redshirt freshman Riley Figueiras after he missed all of last season with a knee injury. Riley has the potential to be an elite cover defender, and he may be tasked with a lot of tough assignments in his first year of college lacrosse.
Another welcome addition will be defender Zach Puckhaber from DIII Gettysburg. A former All-American and two-time captain in his undergrad days, Puckhaber is a massive presence at 6’4”, 220 pounds. He’s joining a unit returning all of it’s starters in Nick Caccamo, Caden Kol, and Landon Clary, plus depth pieces like Billy Dwan and Jordan Beck. When you add Figueiras and Puckhaber to the mix, you all of a sudden have a deep group of poles to utilize for new defensive coordinator John Odierna.
Adding 20 new players to a roster that returns largely intact from last season has left Gary Gait and staff with a variety of lineup combinations.
However they decided to divvy up the playing time, there’s no question that the newcomers are going to play a large and critical role in helping determine what this team is able to accomplish in a year where the expectations have been raised.