We are just over 48 hours away from the beginning of the 2024 Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse season, and I can’t believe it’s already (almost) here!
As we get ready for all the wonderful action inside the Dome on Saturday at 4 PM on ACC Network against Vermont, let’s take one final look at some of the most pressing questions about the team heading into the new season.
‘Cuse was picked to finish 5th in the ACC preseason poll. Will they?
On Tuesday, the ACC released the results of their preseason poll and All-ACC team, which is voted on by the league’s five head coaches.
The Orange were picked to finish last (8 points) behind Notre Dame (23), Duke (19), Virginia (16) and North Carolina (9). On top of that, SU was tied with UNC for the fewest players on the All-ACC team with only midfielder Jake Stevens making it.
I think I was surprised to see ‘Cuse at the bottom of that poll, especially given how much higher the media had them ranked over the Tar Heels (No. 9 vs. No. 17 in IL media poll). Mostly, though, it serves as a reminder of the insane strength of this conference.
Personally, I think the Orange will sneak into that top four ahead of North Carolina and earn a spot in the returning ACC Tournament, but that’s why we play the games.
Can this team be more consistent finishing games?
One of, if not the final step in becoming a winning team and program again is the ability to learn how to win when you’re exhausted in a tight game in the fourth quarter. That’s when you’ve really taken your collection of talent and turned it into a cohesive team unit.
The Orange were able to pull it off a couple times last year in close wins over North Carolina and Princeton, especially that neutral site win over the Tar Heels on Michael Leo’s game winner. But, a handful of other times, they couldn’t close the deal. At no point was it worse than when they had a one-goal lead over Hopkins with six minutes left in the fourth quarter before they gave up three straight goals to lose the game by two.
If this team is going to take the step we all hope they’re going to this year, they’ll have to be more consistent in staying in games and closing them out when they have the chance.
How much will the schedule weigh on this team?
SU plays 15 games over the course of an 11-week regular season. They have one of the most difficult opponent lists in the country, playing seven of the top eight teams in the preseason poll.
They play their first seven games at home, before heading out on the road for six of their final eight. In that time, they’ll take two separate trips to the state of North Carolina, one to Virginia, and one to Indiana. They’ll be matching up with the toughest of the tough while making those trips.
They’re a team of young, college athletes, but that combination of opponent and travel is not for the faint of heart. How well they handle it week-in and week-out will go a long way in determining their ultimate fate this season.
Can the face-off unit alleviate the pressure on the defense?
There’s not much more that needs to be said about this since SU fans have been thinking about it since the end of last season, or even before.
Will Mark is looking for a little less time in his stance and Gary Gait is looking for a significant increase on last year’s 41.9 win percentage.
Personally, I’m a believer that we’re going to see at least a moderate increase in wins this season. Mason Kohn leads the way as both the new FOGO and a team captain, and he’s got a whole cohort of fellow newcomers to help on the wings with the likes of Steven Schmitt, Matt Wright, Jake Stevens and Jake Titus, among others.
Where will all the pieces fit on this team?
There are so many talented newcomers this season that it’s led to the most quality depth Gait’s had in three years, and so many options will lead to lots of decisions for this coaching staff to make.
Does Christian Mulé fill the open attack spot? Do Jake Stevens and Sam English both make the first midfield line, or do they get split up to add an extra touch of experience to both of the top two lines? Who else among the young players fills out the depth at midfield, and how many runs does a potential third line get?
Where and how does Trey Deere fit into the offensive rotation? How about Greg Elijah-Brown? Who among the freshmen beyond Deere can make an impact?
Who starts on defense? Does Riley Figueiras step in to break up the three returning close defenders from last year? How exactly will LSM’s Schmitt and Wright be used; just as depth for Saam Olexo, or could they potentially mix in at close defense, too?
So many questions, and all (or at least some) will be revealed just two days from now against Vermont.