(Photo Courtesy of Syracuse Athletics)
“Unfinished Business.” That was the sentiment echoed around the Syracuse locker room, and especially so amongst the Orange’s fifth-year returnees, coming into last season following a strong 5-0 start before the season was shut down in 2020. However, the season took a wildly different turn and at times it looked like, instead of having unfinished business to attend to, the Orange had no business to complete on the field at all.
An 18-11 loss against Army West Point to start the season put a sour taste in the mounts of this Syracuse team to be sure, but going 5-1 in their next six games, which included a 20-10 blowout of Virginia in the Dome and a one-goal, 15-14, loss at Duke, suggested that this Orange squad might really be what many had hailed them to be in 2020: one of the best teams in the ACC.
Following that Duke game which ended their March slate and put the Orange at a 5-2 record, only two more wins would come Syracuse’s was as they beat UAlbany on April 8th and Virginia two weeks later on April 24th. In between those two wins were a blowout, 21-9, loss at home against North Carolina. A 22-8 loss at Notre Dame followed that second win over the Cavaliers.
In addition to their struggles on the field during the latter part of the season, an off-field saga began to unravel around Syracuse star Chase Scanlan, who was suspended, reinstated, and then ultimately arrested on May 7th on domestic violence charges. The saga surrounding the Syracuse star sucked practically all the air out of the college lacrosse ether, and especially the air around the Orange program.
Following the season, which ended with an 18-8 loss against Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, John Desko retired as the head coach of the Orange after 22 years at the helm of his alma mater. Five national titles and 11 Championship Weekend appearances highlight Desko’s legendary career as the head coach of the Orange, but the ending of that run is one of the tumultuous in the history of the sport.
Heading into 2022 and beyond, this is Gary Gait’s program. And while last season was, without a doubt, a taxing one for this team both on and off the field, Syracuse is still one of the most historic programs in college lacrosse and it features a roster that is ready to win, and win now.
Will a championship be won in the first year, or even first few years, of the Gary Gait era? Only time can tell us that. But what is certain is that Syracuse has the talent both on campus and in the pipeline to continue to be one of the most successful programs in college lacrosse, and get back to that Syracuse standard that this program has come up short of in recent seasons.
Yes, Syracuse has the talent up and down this roster. But where much of that talent showed the most last season was on the offensive end. And much of those players will return in 2022, and with offensive coordinator Pat March remaining on staff, one has to think that this unit, which ranked 12th nationally in scoring offense along with Bryant and Drexel (13.62 goals per game), won’t miss much of a beat at all even with some of the players they do lose.
Owen Hiltz shined as a freshman last season, tallying 48 points off 29 goals and 19 assists. Now heading into his sophomore season, the Peterborough, Ontario native is the Orange’s top returning point-getter from a year ago and one of the faces of this offense. Midfielders Tucker Dordevic (23G/8A) and Brendan Curry (17G/11A) are the second and third top returners for this offense, making up one of the better midfield duos in the ACC and college lacrosse in general.
Much of the attention heading into this season on the offensive end will be on that returning core of Hiltz, Dordevic, and Curry but Syracuse is and can be much of a deeper team, offensive speaking, in 2022. Senior attackman Owen Seebold (18G/8A) returns following a season last spring in which he broke into the starting lineup as the Orange’s third attackman. Additionally, Griffin Cook and Lucas Quinn are two players who saw action last season and could possibly turn it up a notch in 2022.
On the opposite end of the field, defensive coordinator Dave Pietramala has his hands full with a unit returning that ranked 54th nationally (last in ACC) in scoring defense a year ago, allowing 14.08 goals per game. That includes allowing an average of 18 goals per game in their final four AAC games of the year in which they went 1-3 in and fell in their three losses by a total of 61-28.
The Orange lose two big pieces of their defense from a year ago with goalie Drake Porter graduating and defenseman Mitch Wykoff doing the same after spending one season at Syracuse following a four-year career at DIII Gettysburg. Porter served as the Orange’s starter in between the pipes for the past three seasons and Wykoff played in 12 games with 11 starts last season.
Grant Murphy (19GB/16CT) and Brett Kennedy (46GB/15CT) are the top two returning poles for this Orange defense. Murphy led the team in caused turnovers a year ago while starting all 13 games at close. Kennedy, an LSM, started the first two games of the 2021 season at close before moving back to his natural position. He ended the year second on the team in caused turnovers while being the top non-faceoff man in ground balls.
Additionally, redshirt senior Nick DiPietro should assume a solid role if he returns 100%. The former Utah Ute played eight games at close for the Orange last season before sitting out the rest of the year due to injury. He tallied four caused turnovers and 13 ground balls. Brandon Aviles is the Orange’s top returning SSDM following a solid freshman campaign last spring in which he recorded 14 ground balls and six caused turnovers.
The biggest question for this Syracuse defense lies in cage and that very question may have just been answered a week ago with former Virginia goalie Bobby Gavin entering the transfer portal and subsequently deciding to take his talents to Central New York to play for Gary Gait and company. Gavin made eight appearances with two starts for the Cavaliers last season, including a 13-save performance against Army West Point in mid-February that earned him ACC Defensive Player of The Week honors. Syracuse also returns two goalies that saw action a year ago in Harrison Thompson and Shahé Katchadurian.
At the faceoff dot, the Orange return senior Jakob Phaub. He has been Syracuse’s primary option at the dot for the past three seasons and went 345-for-579 (.596%) last spring.