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Syracuse men’s lacrosse: Takeaways from Orange’s 20-7 season-opening win over Vermont

There’s a lot to feel good about coming out of the season’s first game.

Michael Ostrowski

The Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team got their 2024 season off to a flying start on Saturday in the JMA Dome as they laid a 20-7 beatdown on the Vermont Catamounts.

Now that we’ve seen the Orange play one game, it’s time for us to form all our opinions on them for at least the next 24 hours until they play game number two. Let’s get to it:

New look face-off unit gets off to great start

The biggest question coming into the season revolved around face-offs, and the new FO unit got themselves off to a very strong start in game one.

Tufts graduate transfer Mason Kohn headlined as ‘Cuse went a very impressive 21-of-31 on restarts (67.7 percent). Mason led the charge, going 16-of-24 (66.7) and picking up nine ground balls. Freshman John Mullen looked really impressive in his collegiate debut, going 5-of-7 with three GBs. The overall effort helped SU to a huge, 30-18 advantage on ground balls.

I though Kohn really showed off his physicality and strength, especially when he didn’t win cleanly to himself, to pursue a loose ball and track it down for a ‘Cuse possession. There were also good contributions from the wingers like Saam Olexo, Jake Stevens, Matt Wright and more for a great first game at the dot.

Offense shows off with with speed, creativity, versatility and depth

The first quarter was very tepid, defined more by turnovers (6) and failed clears (2) than goals (3); not necessarily a surprise for the first quarter of the season.

Apparently, all they needed was one quarter to settle in and find their groove. That might be putting it mildly, as the offense erupted with nine second quarter goals that brought them to a 12-5 halftime advantage. They would add five more in the third to make it 17 goals on an outstanding 43.6 percent shooting (17-of-39) in three quarters before the bench was emptied for the fourth.

There were so many positives that stood out, but I think the main one for me was seeing just how fast the ball moves in ‘Cuse’s motion offense. The ball movement is quick and crisp, and the player movement is constant. Everyone is always looking for that skip pass or that behind-the-back pass that can create an advantage for a goal, and they share the ball uncannily well.

We saw multiple examples in this game, but one that really stuck in my head was Luke Rhoa’s third goal of the game with 3:32 left in the second quarter to give SU a 10-4 lead. In the five seconds that preceded Rhoa’s goal, passes were made from Wyatt Hottle to Owen Hiltz to Joey Spallina to Rhoa for the finish. In just five seconds, we saw three quick passes and a shot. I couldn’t believe how fast we went from Hottle coming in from the substation box with the ball to the ball ending up in the back of the net. That’s just next level ball movement, and they pass like that all the time.

The speed is only part of what makes the offense so dangerous. The constant player movement means they can initiate attacks from anywhere on the field. Spallina, Hiltz and Christian Mulé are all comfortable operating from either above or below GLE; from X, from out on the wing, or even from up top. The midfielders can be inverted if they want to get a short-stick matchup behind the cage. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and when you’re this versatile in how you like to attack, you’re very difficult to stop.

Lastly, the depth for this group is, as we thought coming into the season, excellent. Everyone gets involved, and everyone is dangerous.

In this game, nine different players scored a goal of the 17 that were scored when the starters were still in the game. Spallina had seven points (3G, 4A); ho-hum. Mulé was tremendous in his ‘Cuse debut with five, and Rhoa made it three players with a hat trick. Five different players recorded at least three points, and eight total had multiple points.

There are so many wonderful options for this team, and they’re such good sharers that they’ll take turns filling up the stat sheet.

Deeper defense handles business under less pressure

The Orange defense took the field with some new faces in new places. Caden Kol, Billy Dwan and Riley Figueiras started at close, Saam Olexo and Matt Wright at LSM, and Landon Clary traded his pole and joined the SSDM unit. Last year’s starter Nick Caccamo came off the bench for this one.

Dwan definitely stood out with a beautiful transition goal, two caused turnovers, and a display of impressive overall athleticism throughout.

In general, the defense did well in holding Vermont to only seven goals, with Will Mark starting the year off strong with 11 saves and a .611 save percentage.

I think one of the most notable things here is that Vermont only got off 30 shots for the entire game, which is fewer shots than ‘Cuse faced in any game all last season. Only twice did a team manage less than 35 shots in a single game last year. The combination of face-off disparity and turnovers doomed the Catamounts in the shots department, and it really helped make things easier for the Orange defense.

Newcomers shine in debut

Mason Kohn was 16-of-24 with nine GBs. Christian Mulé had five points while displaying a full offensive arsenal. Jake Stevens, predictably, played the entire field and had three points and two ground balls. Sammy English had a pair of goals running on the first midfield line.

Riley Figueiras started on defense and had two GBs and one caused turnover. John Mullen went 5-of-7 on FOs. Matt Wright played a ton as the backup LSM on wings and defense. Jake Spallina looked like he’s going to be a regular member of the SSDM unit.

We knew this all along, but this was the on-field proof that the newcomers will be all over the field playing important roles for this team this season.

First game mistakes

Probably the two biggest negatives coming out of this game were the sloppy play and the penalties.

A large portion of the sloppiness was contained within the first quarter, as SU was just finding its legs on the new season. They finished with 14 turnovers and four failed clears. The turnovers settled down after six in the first quarter, but we all know how valuable possession is so those failed clears especially need to be cleaned up.

‘Cuse committed seven penalties in this game and allowed 3-for-5 on the Vermont EMO. For the moment, we can chalk that up to the first game, but seven is obviously way too high a number moving forward.

Next Game

The Orange will be back in action tomorrow for the second game of a two-in-three-days run to begin the season.

They’ll be playing Colgate, who just pulled a massive upset over No. 4 Penn State yesterday on a game-winner with four second left in regulation, so this one just got a lot more interesting. The game is set for 6 PM in the Dome on ACC Network Extra.