As we approach the New Year I wanted to give a quick top ten things I am most thankful for regarding the Syracuse Orange lacrosse program. I'm sure my list will be different from yours, and they are in no particular order, so please hit the comment section and give me some of your favorite moments or aspects of SU lax.
1. The Carrier Dome
2015 brought a tough winter for the Northeast. We saw numerous games played in snow where field lines had to be shoveled clear. More importantly, many programs had trouble practicing outdoors. Limited field time and poor game conditions usually mean sloppier play. Syracuse, for years has been able to utilize the Carrier Dome, giving the Orange the ability to practice offensive and defensive sets in the comfort of the Dome; a huge edge for SU in the early season.
2. The Ensley Athletic Center
While SU does have the Carrier Dome, it is often set up only for a half field due to the men and women's basketball teams. With the new indoor practice facility, the Orange now have the ability to practice on a full field at nearly any time. In 2014 the effect of half field practices came to the forefront in the form of poor clearing. The difference between 2014 and 2015 in the clearing and riding portion of the game was nothing short of astounding, and the benefits of having such a facility cannot be understated.
3. The Coaching Staff
The ACC has had tremendous stability in the coaching ranks, with UNC's Joe Breschi being the shortest tenured coach in the Conference. John Desko has been the head coach at Syracuse since 1999. More impressively, Desko is just the fourth coach in SU history. Desko has come under increasing pressure from the fanbase, most of it unwarranted in my opinion, considering the increased level of play in college lacrosse. With Desko at the helm, and an incredible cast of assistant and volunteer coaches at his side, the Orange have remained in the national spotlight and have been contenders for a National Championship in most years.
4. Onondaga Community College
The OCC pipeline cannot be undervalued. Coach Chuck Wilbur has done a tremendous job with the Lazers, every year putting forth team worthy of national attention. OCC has provided Syracuse with some of its most valued players throughout the years, including, most recently, Randy Staats, Warren Hill, and Jeremy Thompson.
5. The Syracuse Bloodline
In an interview with ESPN, Coach Roy Simmons Sr. said that when he introduced himself to the freshman class he would say: "Thank you for coming to Syracuse. I'm your new coach for the next four years. And if you want to play for me, you owe me your first-born male child." This quote epitomizes the loyalty a familial feel that embodies the program. Coach Simmons set a tone for the program that still continues strong today. The number of players who have had fathers, uncles, cousins, and brothers who have played for the Orange is incredible. It is a tradition unlike any other in college athletics.
6. The ACC
The greatest thing Dr. Gross ever did at Syracuse was joining the ACC, and the lacrosse team certainly benefited. While the Orange would have most likely continued to play high caliber teams, it is now guaranteed games versus Duke, UNC, Virginia, and Notre Dame every year. More importantly, the ACC Tournament provides a new avenue to the NCAA Tournament through an automatic bid. In a world of increased talent in the college game, making the NCAAT is becoming more difficult and there is a lot of comfort in having that Conference AQ.
7. Johns Hopkins
Yep, seriously, but I think sometimes we take the rivalry for granted. The Hopkins-Cuse rivalry is easily the best in college lacrosse, and one of the premier rivals in all of sports. It evokes intense emotions between the teams and has provided us with some of the best games in the history of the game. My only quam is that it is almost always played on the weekend before or after spring break, meaning many students are not on campus to attend at either school. Still, the rivalry has been a great recruiting tool for both teams.
I already mentioned Coach Roy Simmons Senior's request for his player's first-born son, but the tradition of lacrosse at Syracuse University goes far deeper. The game of lacrosse originates from the Native Americans, especially from those tribes around the Great Lakes region. From the beginning, Syracuse lacrosse has been intertwined with the Iroquois culture, playing and recruiting from the Native American ranks. There is no question that the success of SU lacrosse can be directly tied to its nearby Iroquois influences. Beyond the Iroquois connection, Syracuse's tradition is strong. Whether it was the introduction of the Air Gait, the family connections, or the legendary "lost trophy," SU has cultivated a tremendous tradition and developed an infamous lore around its program.
9. The Greatest Lacrosse Game Ever Played
The 1989 NCAA Championship featured two familiar foes, Syracuse and Johns Hopkins. If you have never seen the match, please, I urge you to watch it on youtube, it is a great to spend an evening. The battle between Dave Pietramala, then a defenseman for the Blue Jays, and Gary Gait, is an all-time matchup, and did not disappoint. While the Orange took home a 13-12 victory, the game cemented the Hopkins-Cuse rivalry really was the launching pad for lacrosse in America.
10. Gait and Powell Brothers
It seems as though the evolution of the game of lacrosse has come in waves. In particular, over the last three decades, it has been three families that have pushed the limits of the game, attracted new generations of players and reinvented the sport. In the late 80's and early 90's, it was Paul and Gary Gait who helped elevate lacrosse from a niche sport, giving it a legitimacy that it had previously lacked. Gary's infamous Air Gait move has become the most iconic image in the history of the game, but its importance is far more significant. The move was a metaphor for how the game was transforming. For nearly a decade, from the mid 90's to the mid 2000's, Casey, Ryan, and Mikey Powell dominated the sport. The brothers showcased the excitement of the game to a new generation. In the last few years, it has been the Thompson family who has pushed the boundaries of lacrosse. Jeremy Thompson was a standout at Syracuse, Miles and cousin Ty Thompson made massive impacts at Albany, but it was really Lyle Thompson that made the biggest splash. The Thompson family has introduced a new generation to lacrosse, just like the Gaits and Powells did for previous generations. That being said, the Thompsons have brought the box game to the forefront of field lacrosse, creating a whole new style of their own. The only question is when will the next great player, or players, come, and will they be wearing orange.