(Photo Courtesy of Syracuse Athletics)
Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.
Head Coach: Gary Gait (Second season, 2022-Current)
Syracuse 2022 Record: 4-10 (1-5 ACC)
Key Departures: Owen Seebold (A), Tucker Dordevic (M), Brendan Curry (M), Jakob Phaup (FO), Brett Kennedy (D)
Key Returners: Owen Hiltz (A), Brandon Alvies (SSDM), Nick Caccamo (D)
Transfer Additions: Alex Simmons (A, Denver), Cole Kirst (A, Lehigh), Johnny Richiusa (FO, Canisius), Jake Murphy (SSDM, LIU), Joe Bolea (SSDM, Kenyon), Will Mark (G, LIU)
Year one of the Gary Gait era at Syracuse was less than inspiring, to say the least. The year began for Syracuse with its top offensive returner, Owen Hiltz, suffering a season-ending in a preseason scrimmage right before the season’s start. And the Hiltz injury would just be the first of many scars on the season for the Orange.
Syracuse went 4-10 on the year and suffered losses to Army West Point, a sub-par Johns Hopkins team, and against a UAlbany team that went 5-10. The latter two losses came on the road. The 2022 campaign marked the first losing season for the Orange since 2007 and the program’s lowest win total since 1975 (3-8). An upset win over Duke in March was the highlight of the Orange’s 2022 season and suggested that there might have been something more there, but it never came to fruition again.
The offseason in Syracuse has been about trying to right the ship. And to do just that, Gary Gait and company have brought in a whole host of talented transfers to try and spark life back into this once proud program. Much will also be expected from the heralded incoming freshman class. How this Syracuse team bounces back in 2023 is one of the main talking points nationally in the sport.
Will The Defense Produce?
Defense has been one of the weaker points of this Syracuse program for multiple years now. And in year one under defensive coordinator Dave Pietramala, that was still the case – and maybe even more so. Syracuse ended the season with the seventh-worst (66th) scoring defense in college lacrosse as they allowed 14.71 goals per game. Those numbers are even worse when put up against ACC competition, which averaged 17.5 goals on this Syracuse defense. That includes three games (at Virginia, at Notre Dame, vs Virginia) in which the opponent put up 20-plus goals.
From that group the only key returners are sophomore defenseman Nick Caccamo (39GB/24CT), junior LSM Sam Olexo (46GB/16CT), who transitioned back to pole last year after playing short-stick defensive midfield as a freshman, and junior SSDM Brandon Aviles (32GB/9CT). Those three help make up the core of a unit that will be looking to make a massive jump up after a porous showing last spring.
In addition to those key returners, Syracuse brings in a trio of transfers on that end in LIU goalie Will Mark, former LIU SSDM Jake Murphy, and former Kenyon (DIII) SSDM Joe Bolea. Multiple highly-regarded freshmen in Billy Dwan and Riley Figuerias also enter the picture on the back end for this Orange squad. All told, Syracuse has talent on defense just like they have in recent years. It is a matter of if, and how well, that talent produces in the spring and whether or not they can do it against the best of the best in college lacrosse.
What to Expect From The Offense?
Losing Owen Hiltz right before the season began threw a wrench in this Syracuse offense. Tucker Dordevic made the move to attack to fill that void and the unit as a whole struggled to find rhythm as the season went along. It lacked a true quarterback and turned into a dodge heavy offense that was unable to whip the ball around as much as they needed to in order to beat defenses. On the year, the offense averaged 13.3 goals per game and was still a top 25 scoring offense. Against ACC opponents the Orange averaged 11.6 goals per game.
In 2023, offensive coordinator Pat March gets almost a full fresh slate of talent to work with and build this offense around. Jackson Birtwistle (14G), Griffin Cook (4G/4A), and Tyler Cordes (4G/8A) are the only top 10 returning scorers from a year ago. Owen Hiltz will be back from injury and should be expected to be a leader on that end just as he we was his freshman year in 2021, where he put up 29 goals and 19 assists. Additionally, highly-touted freshman Joey Spallina is chief among them in that class expected to make an immediate impact.
Syracuse also added a pair of grad transfer attackmen in Cole Kirst (Lehigh) and Alex Simmons (Denver). Kirst had 18 goals and 12 assists last spring for the Mountain Hawks while Simmons had 30 goals and 15 assists for the Pioneers. The pair bring a lot to the table as veteran playmakers who can help guide this young core. With all that said, how exactly this offense looks come February and whether or not it can be the elite unit many believe it has the potential to be is going to be one of the major talking points of the 2023 season.
How Impactful Will The Freshman Class Be?
I usually reserve a section at the end of these articles for highlighting the freshman class, but in this case I need to dive deeper because this 2022 recruiting class is such a major factor and talking point around Syracuse lacrosse at the moment. The Orange bring in the most heralded class of the cycle and headlining it is attackman Joey Spallina (Mount Sinai, N.Y.), who is ranked as the No. 1 player in the class by Inside Lacrosse.
Attackman Finlay Thompson (St. Michael’s College, Ont.), goalie Jimmy McCool (The New Hampton School, N.H.), and the aforementioned defenemen Dwan and Figuerias are also top 20 recruits in the class, per IL.
There is a lot of hype and a lot of high expectations surrounding this recruiting class and what it means for Syracuse’s quest back to national prominence. And the expectation is that this group will hit the ground running this spring and start that quest. However, just how much of an immediate impact this class will have is going to be an interesting development. That is even more true when you look at the transfers the Orange have brought in to help take some of that load off these younger players and provide veteran leadership where it is needed.
Potential Breakout Player
Griffin Cook, A/M, Fifth-Year Senior
Cook has been a solid contributor in the action that he has seen during his time at Syracuse. He played and started in eight games last spring before suffering a season-ending injury. He had four one-assists games, a hat trick against Virginia, and a goal against Army. Back for another year and with the help this offense needs, he could help provide just that.
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