Two great decisions on two consecutive days from the athletics department regarding lacrosse, what a week. Wednesday SU announced that a statute would be erected for Roy Simmons Sr. and Roy Simmons Jr. and yesterday the Syracuse Orange added a third fallball event. It’s not that the team is playing that makes this great, but who it’s playing. SU will host the Iroquois Nationals and Team Israel on October 1 at 12:30 PM in the Carrier Dome.
Playing Israel is nice, the squad finished seventh in the 2014 FIL World Championship, but scheduling the Iroquois National Team is a fantastic move. An absolute no-brainer. I want this every year.
The Iroquois Nationals finished seventh in the 2014 event and featured a roster that included several familiar players: Brendan Bomberry (a current SU player who will obviously not be playing with the Nationals in this game), Warren Hill (played two years in goal at Syracuse), Sid Smith (All-American defenseman at Syracuse for two years), Lyle Thompson (2014 Co-Tewaaraton Trophy winner who played for the Albany Great Danes), Jeremy Thompson (standout FOGO for Syracuse), Miles Thompson (2014 Co-Tewaaraton Trophy Winner for the Albany Great Danes), Randy Staats (put up 109 points in 27 games played at SU), Cody Jamieson (53 points in 21 games played for SU and buried the game winner versus the Cornell Big Red in the 2009 National Championship game), and Brett Bucktooth (68 goals and 43 assists in four years at Syracuse).
Back in the day, the Onondaga Nation team often played area schools including Hobart and Syracuse, not in preseason but in actual contests (just to be clear, the Iroquois National Team is comprised of the six Iroquois Nations, not just Onondaga, but it works as a comparison here). SU and the Onondagans faced off a total of 27 times between 1916 and 1954 with SU holding an 18-6-3 record. The connection between the Orange and Onondaga lacrosse is much more than just those 27 games, however. I’m not going to go into it here, but take a couple of minutes to read this old Sports Illustrated column, it is a little lengthy but I promise you will not be disappointed.
The lacrosse world was stunned when Lyle, Miles, and eventually Ty Thompson chose to attend Albany. Up until this point, SU, which is just over 10 miles from the Onondaga reservation, was THE school for Iroquois lacrosse players. If they had come to ‘Cuse, they wouldn’t have even been the first Thompson to play for the Orange. For SU fans, this was an eye opening moment, a black eye which only grew more tender when Lyle commented in a New York Times article that, “Syracuse honestly didn’t recruit both of us too hard, I think they just expected us to go there.” In the same article, Bill Tierney, head coach of the Denver Pioneers, made the point that: “The distance between Albany and Syracuse, at the time that they did it, can’t be measured in geographical miles.” To put it bluntly, this was quite a coup and it was the most obvious example of how SU may have been failing in at least one segment of its recruiting strategy.
It goes without saying that the recruiting ties between the school and the Onondaga Nation have frayed in the last decade, culminating in the Thompsons’ commitment to Albany. I cannot think of a better way to begin to re-bridge the gap between one of the most storied lacrosse programs and the people who cultivated the sport than a match between the two entities. It is a back-to-the roots move, and I love it.
But the benefits of playing the Iroquois Nationals do not start and end with building relationships. According to Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan and a former Syracuse goalie, Roy Simmons Sr. had his team play Onondaga Nation so that they could “see what real stickhandling was.” The Iroquois grow up playing box lacrosse, a much different game. It’s played inside of an enclosed area, similar to indoor soccer. Cross checking is legal, the positions are a little different, goalies wear very different padding, but the biggest difference is the style of play. It’s not like the spread out play of field lacrosse, everything is compact with guys being forced to work within a much more constrained area under greater defensive pressure. There is no question that playing box lacrosse leads to better stick work and the style presents a much different challenge for defenders.
With box leagues for youngsters more accessable and more college coaches trying to implement the box game into their players through off-season games, the box style has more of a place in the college game nowadays than it did even a decade ago. Yet still, there is a world of difference between a player who played some box growing up and guy coming out of Six Nations. Defenders are forced to be more physical, rely on positioning, and defend against faster ball movement within tight spaces. On the other side of the field, box players traditionally hit harder, throw more stick checks, congest the passing lanes, and keep long poles constantly on a ball handler’s stick. Getting the opportunity to play an entire roster of box style players will be eye opening to a lot of the SU guys, especially the younger ones. It is an opponent that will present a tremendously greater challenge than any division I team could, and the players will grow as a result.