After an impressive title run that vaulted Syracuse back to the top of Division I lacrosse (as if they ever really left), the Orange will have another tough climb to the top in 2009.
WHAT TITLE DEFENSE
Before all the banter begins, let’s start here: Syracuse has nothing to defend. The 2008 National Championship will forever be Orange. Whoever walks off the field this May has no claim to the ’08 SU crown, and Coach John Desko made that clear to his team the first day of practice.
“We don’t really want to approach this year in defense of the 2008 title,” Desko told his squad January eighth. “The 2008 trophy is in my office. It’s going to be in the lobby with the other trophies. We’re not defending that. It’s always going to be there, no matter what happens this season.”
But regardless, there is a target. At least 10 teams will walk through the Carrier Dome’s air-locked player’s entrance this season with the goal of knocking off the defending champions. And SU knows it has to be ready – Desko’s been around the block long enough to know that. He knows his team was a few more Joey Kemp saves from not making the Final Four. He knows Ben Rubeor’s overtime shot was no more than half-an-inch from sending the Orange home 48 hours shy of Memorial Day. He knows another Paul Rabil rocket and a few more Michael Gvozden miracle stops, and that trophy could be in Dave Pietramala’s office and not his.
“If you go back and look at everything, we were in six one-goal games,” Desko said. “As good as we might have thought we were last year, there were six of those that we won by one and some overtimes in there, so nothing comes easy.”
So where does that leave the Orange? If 2008 is gone, so is Tewaarton Trophy winner Mike Leveille. Steven Brooks now plays for the Chicago Machine. Evan Brady and Kyle Guadagnolo leave the close defense with just one returning starter. Danny Brennan’s dominance at the faceoff X will no longer control possessions.
“I feel like I need to take more of a leadership role and make some bigger plays,” said senior Dan Hardy, “but I trust all the guys around me. Mike’s (Leveille) obviously gone. He made a lot of plays for us last year. It’s going to be more spread out, and I don’t think you’re going to see a real big scorer this year that’s going to put up 90 points like Mike did.”
So that’s were SU is. It’s a squad that returns enough starters to fill up one hand, but enough contributors to be counted on three. Hardy returns with Kenny Nims, Pat Perritt, and Matt Abbott – four years ago named one of the most heralded freshman classes in recent SU history. Greg Niewierowski and Stephen Keough are back on attack as well. Joel White returns with three more years of eligibility at the pole. The ever-energetic Jovan Miller is back in what he calls a “crowded” midfield, and John Galloway, just a sophomore, is back in goal.
“It wasn’t my championship,” Miller said about his motivation for this year. “I looked at Mike Leveille and Steven Brooks and they’ve been through so much in their careers. Our whole team wanted to win it for those seniors. This year we came out fresh because we want to win something for ourselves, and show people it wasn’t a one-time thing.”
With some of the losses Syracuse sustained, the Orange also adds to its core, picking up several transfers, including Georgetown’s ultra-athlete Scott Kahoe, Villanova’s U-19 National Teamer John Lade, Navy Prep’s Pete Coleman, and most recently Onondaga Community College’s Cody Jamieson.
Lade was the first of the transfers to leap aboard. An All-American in high school, the defensemen was a top-100 recruit when he committed to Villanova (who SU promptly dropped 21 goals on to open the 2008 season). Lades' tie to The Hill, however came through his U-19 experience with now teammates Josh Amidon and Joel White.
“We called [Coach Desko] saying, ‘Coach, John Lade wants to come up here,’" Amidon said. “[Desko] said ‘Alright, call him up and have him get a visit up here.’ He did and here he is.”
“They just threw me a bone,” Lade said. “[White and Amidon] just said that [Syracuse] might be interested, and then Coach [Desko] called me. I had my release already, and we just went from there.”
Kahoe’s route to SU was academic. Having graduated from Georgetown, the middie wanted a good graduate school where he could pursue his MBA. Kahoe said Georgetown’s program is an executive one, and he didn’t have the work experience needed. That led him to the Orange.
The move is an awkward switch for Kahoe, seeing as the Hoyas and Orange are arch rivals. Kahoe does, however, become the second former Hoya laxer to join SU in two years, after All-American goalie Maggie Koch became an assistant with the Orange women in 2008. But unlike Koch, who’s been caught sporting a pair of Georgetown flip-flops in the past, Kahoe has switched allegiances.
“You know what, I bleed Orange now,” Kahoe said. “I’m no longer a Hoya.” But whoever the graduate student considers his true home, he does add a “freakish athlete” to the ‘Cuse.
“He’s been a pretty big threat this fall,” Desko said. “He’s a big physical kid. Another one who can dodge the alley and shoot the ball with both hands – and he’s been shooting the ball pretty well from outside so you could see him on man-up for us.”
Coleman and Jamieson are more enigmatic at this point. Coleman joined the Orange after spending the fall at Navy Prep, and Desko said redshirting him is not out of the question, although he said that’s speculation at this point.
Jamieson has been trying to transfer to Syracuse from OCC for some time now, and finally saw it come to fruition this spring, although the NCAA must still clear him to play. (The NCAA is still reviewing some of his transfer credit). He was expected to be the top overall pick in this year’s NLL draft had he gone pro.
Danny Brennan was the top faceoff man in the nation last season. Now onto the less obvious, who replaces him?
Several names come to the forefront as guys that have taken faceoffs in the past. Jake Moulton is at the top of that list, especially after Desko mentioned him at Media Day earlier this month. But the Orange coach also mentioned that no determination had been made yet. Last season Brennan pretty much dominated the takes for Syracuse, although the graduated John Carrozza took several as well. Moulton, Miller, Abbott, and Gavin Jenkinson have also taken faceoffs in the past. But whoever the guy is, it’s going to be hard to replace Brennan.
“That could change how we play (not winning seven of 10 faceoffs),” Desko said. “Many teams like to hold the ball against us when they're on offense, which would force us to be a little bit more patient offensively, to take care of our possessions and rest our defense. That’s a pretty big hole, and we haven’t quite figured that out yet.”
DOME SWEET HOME
Syracuse has an added luxury to the 2009 season – all but five of its games are at home, including bouts with Johns Hopkins, Virginia, and Cornell.
Desko joked that the schedule was very athletic department friendly, helping out the budget without having to cover the cost of travel and hotel rooms. But he also said the home field advantage can be a double-edged sword.
“It’s another night we can be at home, but it works both ways,” the coach said. “Many teams come in and get very excited to play in the Carrier Dome."