After 2014’s gauntlet of a schedule, the 2015 version for the Orange was never going to approach that type of insanity again. However, Syracuse once again is facing a daunting slate that will have it ranked near among the best in the country for strength of schedule. Luckily for Syracuse, this is an odd number year, giving them most of their top end games at home – including their most two daunting out-of-conference games, against Johns Hopkins and Cornell. Let’s take a look at the first half of the 2015 schedule, game by game:
Feb. 7 – Siena
Syracuse did a nice job in scheduling the first game of the year on a Saturday rather than a weekday as has been the norm for several years. Unfortunately it scheduled the game at 4:00 p.m., the same time as the Syracuse men’s basketball game versus Pitt. The scheduling gaffe not withstanding, this should be a nice opportunity for Syracuse to work out the last of the kinks against, what is on paper, a very over-matched opponent. Siena returns some nice pieces including a star attackman and a decent face off specialist, but they don’t have the overall depth and firepower to hang with Syracuse. Barring a complete meltdown at the X and on defense, this game should be over by half. Look for a big game from Kevin Rice and Dylan Donahue, who put up monster numbers against Siena 2014.
Feb. 15 – Cornell
This game is usually a mid-week affair in the middle of the season, but this year both schools agreed to move the game up and make it a weekend affair (Sunday). Cornell returns most of its team from their NCAA tourney appearance last year, including Connor Buzcek, one of the top middies in Division I. Cornell did struggle to get consistent scoring from their attack last year, putting pressure on Buzcek and others to carry the load every game. Cornell is ranked in the Top 10 in most polls but like Syracuse has major questions at the X and on defense outside of goalie Christian Knight. Also hurting Cornell is that Ivy League rules that permit when practicing can begin. Syracuse has had weeks of practices and four scrimmages under its belt, while Cornell has just begun practicing. Syracuse should have a major edge coming into the game with all of that practice under its belt and one game in the books.
Feb. 22 – Army
Army has historically given Syracuse trouble, including a first round loss in the NCAA tournament a few years ago. Most Army teams usually have a top scorer and a great defender. This year’s team is no different. Senior Sam Somers mans the goal for the Cadets and was the league leader in goals allowed (7.21 GAA) and near the top in save percentage last year. Army also returns John Glesener, their top offensive player by far, who was slowed somewhat last year by an ACL tear he suffered in 2013. Army also returning faceoff starter Alex Daly, who took nearly every draw last year and finished at 53.5%. This could end up being a very close game, especially if Syracuse struggles at the X, as Army has an excellent defense that returns experienced players at SSDM and LSM. Like most Army teams though, there are weaknesses. Depth – especially on offense – is questionable, and outside of Glesener there does not appear to be much offensive firepower. For Army to have a chance they need a 7-6 type of game and a standout performance from their talented defense. Syracuse’s overwhelming amount of offensive star power and depth will likely be to much for Army to stand up to for four quarters.
Mar. 3 – Virginia
Yet another home Sunday game for the Orange. UVA has struggled in recent years to put together the type of seasons they have become accustomed to under long time head coach Dom Starsia. Injuries, transfers, and poor faceoff and defensive performances have hindered UVA the past few years and are again major questions for the Cavs coming into this season. UVA lost arguably their best offensive player, Mark Cockerton, to graduation, and their top faceoff player, Mick Parks, to an injury in the preseason. To make matters worse, UVA lost star defenseman Tanner Scales to an Achilles injury this past weekend, a crushing blow to an already inexperienced and questionable defense. The good news for UVA is that is does return James Pannell, Ryan Tucker, Zed Williams, and Owen Van Arsdale on offense and should be able to put up good numbers. UVA is never an easy out but with major questions on defense and at faceoff, as well as a returning goalie who was under 50% in saves last year, it appears UVA will be hard pressed to make the NCAA tourney. The Cavs schedule does them no favors either, as they, like Syracuse, play seven of the top 10 teams in the Inside Lacrosse 2015 rankings. It looks like it could be a long year in Charlottesville.
Mar. 7 – St. John’s
For the second year in a row, the Orange will take on St. John’s in Kennesaw, Georgia as part of the Cobb County Lacrosse Classic. St. John’s has made vast improvements under head coach Jason Miller and has been close to making the NCAA tournament the past few seasons. St. John’s has had some potent offensive attacks but has struggled considerably on defense and at the X. Syracuse won comfortably against St. John’s last year, and on paper it looks like more of the same this season for the Red Storm. St. John’s lost its entire starting attack unit to graduation, including Kieran McArdle, the unquestioned offensive leader. St. John’s lost a total of 590 points with the graduation of McArdle and his two running mates Kevin Cernuto and Colin Keegan. St. John’s does have a couple of Orange transfers on the roster in Ricky Buhr and Eric Dejohn, the latter of whom is expected to add big things offensively for the Red Storm this season. St. John’s appears to be headed for a rebuilding year with the loss of so many key offensive players, and a matchup with a senior laden Syracuse team could get ugly quick.
Mar. 14 – Johns Hopkins
One of Syracuse’s most heated rivalries continues despite both of the former independents now being apart of conferences (Big Ten for JHU). Johns Hopkins had struggled the past few years to return to the glory days of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and even missed the NCAA tourney in 2013. However, under the guidance of Wells Stanwick and an always above average defense, JHU made it back to the tournament in 2014 and defeated UVA in the first round. Hopkins returns the talented Wells Stanwick along with his brother Shack Stanwick, one of the most hyped freshmen recruits in recent years. Shack is just one of several highly touted freshmen Hopkins has brought in for 2015 on the offensive side of the ball. Hopkins also returns several defensive starters, including senior goalie Eric Schneider, as well as seniors Michael Pellegrino, John Kelly, and Rob Enright along with sophomore Nick Fields. Hopkins also returns super faceoff man Drew Kennedy, who torched the Orange last year at the X.
Much like Maryland last year the key for Hopkins will be integrating a largely young offense with a senior laden defense and top end faceoff specialist. The 2015 Hopkins team is a legit title contender, and after having not reached the championship game since the 2008 loss to Syracuse. head coach Dave Pietramala and the entire team is certainly very anxious to get back to championship weekend. Expect another extremely close game between the Orange and JHU, who always seem to play an excellent game regardless of the year or records. With Syracuse hoping to cut the huge faceoff disparity down from last year’s game it will interesting to see if this year’s meeting becomes more of a shootout than it typically has been in the past. With so many senior starters on defense and with Kennedy also exhausting his eligibility after the season there is definitely a sense of urgency to win this year, as Hopkins will certainly be rebuilding on D next year, replacing so many defensive starters along with Wells Stanwick on offense.