SYRACUSE, N.Y.-On a dreary Sunday afternoon the Syracuse Orange rolled on the Villanova Wildcats 21-6 in the Carrier Dome. Fueled by the disappointment of last season and watched by the critical eyes of both fans and the media, the Orange made a return to form, playing the way a powerhouse program should. Behind some exciting offensive fireworks and some stingy defensive play, Syracuse took a large step forward, making a statement about what this team can really do.
The more than 4,000 in attendance got behind the Orange early, elated that their team looked like the teams they have watched for years. The crowd set a milestone for the Carrier Dome, pushing it over the one million mark for total lacrosse attendance since the school began playing its games inside back in 1980.
Right off the opening draw Syracuse came out gunning. Steve Brooks snagged the opening faceoff, made a bluff charge to feel how his man would play him, backed off, and then hit Greg Niewieroski who was cutting underneath. Niewieroski grabbed the feed and buried a bounce shot without breaking stride. The effortlessness of the play set the tone for the Orange offensively. They clicked, and even when they were off, the fortuitous bounce was theirs.
Mike Leveille built the lead to three, scoring two unassisted. The first came when Kenny Nims worked the ball behind, then whipped a pass in to Leveille who bounced off a hit as he spun around and shot. The next came when Leveille grabbed a loose rebound and drove right through the teeth of the Villanova defense, threw a few fakes, and put the ball right over Villanova goalie Andrew DiLoreto's shoulder.
From there the Orange just exploded. They rattled off 10 goals in the first quarter, getting contributions from all of their big names on offense, and even a new face. Nims got his first of six goals on the day as Brooks took what looked like a shot, but was really a feed to Nims on the post, who just tapped the ball in. Newcomer Stephen Keogh scored off a feed from Dan Hardy on the man-up. The Canadian freshman did what Canadians do best, positioned himself well inside, caught feeds, and finished.
Matt Abbott scored on a nice unassisted drive. The Orange seamlessly went between their first and second line middies, as Coach Desko calls them the 'orange' and 'blue' lines respectively, without any lack of production. Hardy, Brooks, and Brendan Loftus ran the orange line, while Matt Abbott, Max Bartig, and Pat Perritt ran the blue line. Though the two lines play slightly different styles, they produced similar results.
"That was the rotation we were going to use," Coach Desko said after the game. "We are going to run when we can."
The depth allows Syracuse to push the tempo a bit more, especially when the second group is in. Though they may not have the finesse of the first line, they are all very athletic, most getting minutes at D-middie at some point, making two-way play a non-issue.
After goals by Brooks (off a Leveille feed), Perritt, another for Nims, and Loftus, Syracuse was controlling a 10-0 route at the conclusion of the first quarter.
While the offense looked impressive, the more encouraging prospect for the Orange might be their play on defense. The goalie controversy was quieted some, as freshman John Galloway made the start. As was expected, his clearing game was impressive. He hit men with long clearing passes right in stride, he showed confidence carrying the ball, and he readily used either hand, even when he didn't have to. But Galloway showed no let down stopping shots either. His first collegiate save was tough, picking a point blank shot out of the air and tracking the rebound. He read shooters well. He also handled his defense well, having no problems calling out slides and pointing out who should go where. These all seemed good signs for Syracuse.
"I felt like I was seeing the ball well today," Galloway said after the game. "Making the first save is the most important thing." Once that one was in his back pocket, he seemed cool and confident.
Fellow newcomer Sid Smith also looked good at close defense. While his fundamentals and footwork were solid, his stick was truly a tool. He carried the ball well in the clearing game, snagged passes from his teammates, broke up a lot of passes from his opponents, and constantly antagonized who he guarded.
Lelan Rodgers' new, simpler system on defense really paid off. The unit was cohesive, never seemed to be confused, and was aggressive while not being reckless. Villanova offensive players were challenged, and anyone who came into the crease was put on the ground.
The Wildcats didn't get on the board until almost six minutes into the second quarter when Jay Foley got a feed from Chris Aitken and ripped a shot into the top corner. Foley would later add another after Nims notched his hat trick.
Nims was untouchable at points it seemed. For his second goal, he had the ball in a one-on-one, alone behind the play with his man, spun, fell to the ground, and still squirted the ball into the net. Four his fourth goal, he grabbed the rebound of a Chris Daniello shot, turned the corner and took a nice jumper right by the keeper's ear. He moved fluidly but aggressively. While he often times played the role of feeder last season, he had no problem being opportunistic and finishing every chance he got Sunday. As he, Leveille, and Niewieroski get more time to gel, this attack group could put up some impressive numbers.
After another goal by Hardy, the half ended with Syracuse leading 13-2.
Pete Coluccini started the second half in goal for the Orange. Obviously looking a little flat from sitting for the first half, he let in an early goal by Tim Driscoll, but gained his edge as the quarter progressed. While his clearing might not have been as crisp as Galloway's, his toughness did not wane. At one point, while attempting to clear, Coluccini picked up a loose ball, bounced off two hits, and then looked as if he was looked for more contact, running right at riding attackmen and getting his way, before he eventually hit his outlet.
The third piece of the goalie puzzle, Alex Cavalieri, played the last 12:42 of the game. With mostly back-up defensemen in front of him, Cavalieri made some solid stops and looked comfortable. The goalie wheel will continue to turn into next week as Desko made no definitive answers on who would start against Army.
"That was the rotation that we were going to use," Desko said. "We're going to keep developing these guys."
While the defense's play may have answered some questions, the offense surely quieted critics today. "All our hard work is starting to pay off," Nims said after the game. He tallied his fifth and sixth goals back-to- back in the third off assists from Brooks and Leveille respectively. All of the major contributors played as a unit, taking their shots when they had them, but differing when it was appropriate.
"Any given day anybody can put up five or six goals," Nims said of the offense after the game. Today he was that anybody, setting his career high in scoring.
As the third quarter gave way to the fourth, both coaches began to dip into their benches, letting some of the second or third stringers run shifts and make plays. Villanova was able to tack on a few more goals, but every one was almost immediately answered emphatically by Syracuse. While play got a little frenetic at times, Syracuse never lost control of this one. When the final whistle blew, Syracuse took the game 21-6.
The Orange dominated in all facets. They out shot the Wildcats 40 to 28. They won the war at the X, taking 19 or 31 faceoffs. They cleared well, were more productive on man-up, and made more saves.
One of the most promising stats of the whole game might be groundballs, of which the Orange scooped up 35 to Villanova's 28. Syracuse showed a hustle and a sense of urgency they never had last season. Guys seemed committed to a new philosophy and a new attitude. Unlike last year's team that often let the game come to them and played as if they just expected to win, this year's group looks hungry to earn it and take the game to their opponents early and often. It will be a good test to see how they do against a disciplined, slowed-down team like Army. As Desko said after the game, "We need to be prepared for everybody we play against."
Villanova hosts Lafayette next Friday at 4:00, hopefully a matchup that could yield a more favorable outcome for the Wildcats. The Orange will face the Cadets next Sunday at 3:30 in the Carrier Dome. They will look to avenge an early season loss that set a very bad tone for the team last year.
|Kenny Nims||(6, 0)|
|Mike Leveille||(2, 4)|
|Dan Hardy||(3, 1)|
|Steven Brooks||(1, 3)|
|Stephen Keogh||(2, 1)|
|Brendan Loftus||(1, 1)|
|Josh Amidon||(2, 0)|
|Chris Daniello||(1, 0)|
|Matt Abbott||(1, 0)|
|Greg Niewieroski||(1, 0)|
|Pat Perritt||(1, 0)|
|Mike Macdonald||(0, 1)|
|John Galloway||5 (0.714)|
|Al Cavalieri||4 (0.800)|
|Peter Coluccini||1 (0.250)|