Hope and change is a phrase you will hear often during this current presidential election year but it is also the perfect description of the 2016 Syracuse lacrosse team. There is great hope that Syracuse can make a deep run in the NCAA tourney after two straight early exits but there is also massive change in the roster from 2015 and 2016. Our preview of the 2016 Orange takes a look at each position and what to look for as Syracuse celebrates its 100 year anniversary of playing lacrosse.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeremy had this written up before the first game of the season, but stupid things like “life” and “having a day job” kept me too busy to get it posted until now. My bad!
Attack: 50 goal scorer Dylan Donahue returns but Kevin Rice and Randy Staats exhausted their eligibility, leaving two gaping holes in the Orange starting attack. As expected junior Jordan Evans was moved from the second mid line to his natural position at attack. The third spot was won by 5th year grad transfer Nick Piroli, who spent last year playing midfield at Brown. Piroli winning the third spot came a surprise to most observers as fellow transfer Nick Mariano from UMass was expected to win the job, having played attack for the Minutemen.
With Donahue, Syracuse has one of the top attackmen in the country but the other two spots are much less clear. Evans has been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play in his first two years playing on the second midfield line. Piroli had 10 goals for Brown last year but more importantly for Syracuse he had 24 assists. If Piroli can play a distributor role setting up Evans and Donahue along with the midfield he will be extremely valuable for a team looking to try and replace Kevin Rice. Should injuries or inconsistent play force a change, coach Desko could look to move Mariano from midfield back to his natural position or lean on of the several Freshmen attackmen on the roster.
Biggest Question Mark: Jordan Evans.
Evans has looked excellent in two preseason scrimmages but the jury is still out own whether he can stay healthy and maintain a high level of production. Should he falter there will be several options for the coaching staff to look to with the most obvious being to move Mariano to attack. Syracuse has several high level freshman who could make an impact, including Nathan Solomon and Devin Shewell, who saw time in the scrimmages.
Wild Card: Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Gale Thorpe. The son of an SU legend, Thorpe initially was set to enroll with the class of 2013 but took a year off to attend OCC, where he didn’t play on the lacrosse team. He then enrolled in the fall of 2014 and redshirted for the 2015 season. A pure attackman, Thorpe has a bevy of moves and slick stick skills. He’s said to have impressed the staff during fall ball and again in preseason camp. Should Thorpe continue to impress in practice it will be difficult to see how he doesn’t get on the field. His continued improvement could lead to Syracuse rotating in a 4th attackmen which while rear is not unheard of.
Midfield: Of all the question marks for the 2016 Orange, no question is more uncertain then the 1st and 2nd midfield. After graduating the entire starting midfield line, Syracuse was forced to revamp the entire unit. OCC transfer Tim Barber, who played on the second midfield line last year, moves up to the first line and looks to take over the role vacated by Nicky Galasso as the top midfielder. Barber, a former JUCO player of the year at OCC, has a wealth of experience at both attack and midfield but will be tasked with leading an overhauled midfield.
Joining him on the first unit is the previously mentioned UMass transfer Nick Mariano and redshirt junior Sergio Salcido. Salcido brings a speed dynamic to the midfield line and after failing to meet up to high expectations last season, he hopes to break out in 2016. Mariano is transitioning to midfield for the first time since he was in middle school and while he has indicated in several media articles that he feels he’s making progress it’s clear he will need a few games at minimum to shake the rust off.
The second midfield line continues to find itself in a state of flux. Currently Nick Weston, Derek Dejoe, and Matt Lane are set to get the first crack. Dejoe has been batting redshirt sophomore Ryan Simmons for the final spot on the second line and appears to have overtaken him. All three players have significant question marks and it wouldn’t be surprising if by the halfway mark of the season the line had two or even three new faces. Simmons showed flashes last year in limited minutes during garbage time but has been unable to show the consistency needed to crack the two deep. The good news for the Orange is that they have more then a half dozen additional midfielders on the roster not counting the six on the first two lines. The bad news is that after redshirting all four midfield recruits in the 2014 class none have been able to crack the two deep despite positive reviews coming out of practices during the 2015 season.
Biggest Question Mark: While you could list almost anyone outside of Barber the two biggest would have to be Sergio Salcido and Matt Lane. Salcido received rave review during the 2015 preseason and was poised to breakout after making the 2nd midfield. Unfortunately Salcido struggled mightily as he was unable to harness his speed and often appeared to be to far ahead of his teammates and the pace of play. He ultimately lost his job midway through the year and played sparingly the remainder of the year. Lane is a former attackman whose 6-foot-7 height reminds many of Duke star midfielder Myles Jones. Unfortunately height is the only thing the two have in common. Lane moved to midfield early in the 2015 season but saw only limited minutes and was less then impressive. Lane has bundles of raw and untapped talent so a big jump from last season would not be shocking. The staff feels Lane has a good shot and with other players failing to step up he has an opportunity to solidify himself as a mainstay on the second line. Ryan Simmons would appear to be the 7th midfielder and would likely get the first shot to crack the 2nd mid line.
Wild Card: Sam Romano/the Redshirt Four.
An Under Armour All-American, Romano was a high school legend in Texas and comes in with big exepctations in his first year at Syracuse. Romano likely has a higher learning curve due to the competition level in Texas but should the midfield struggle to produce consistently don’t be surprised if coach Desko turns to the highly touted frosh. The four midfielders (Pat Carlin, Brad Mckinney, Luke Schwasnick and Tyler Ford) who all redshirted last year have all failed to break through to the first or second midline. While disappointing, all four are clearly still in the early stages of their careers and one or two of them breaking out would go along way to help the orange this year and beyond.
SSDM: Syracuse will need to rely on its defense for at least the early portion of the season and this group has the talent to do there part. Led by 5th year senior Tom Grimm this group is loaded both with experience and talent. Grimm will be joined by redshirt junior Paolo Ciferri in the starting lineup. Ciferri saw more minutes in the second half of 2015 and played well down the stretch. Spencer Schmitt and Joe Gillis should be the primary backups to Grimm and Ciferri. Both saw extended game time in 2015 and have the size that the staff is looking for at the position. This should be a position of strength for the Orange with Ciferri looking like a possible breakout candidate.
LSM: Much like their short stick counterparts the long sticks have considerable depth and talent at coach Desko’s disposal. Scott Firman will be the starter, replacing the departed Peter Macartney. Firman had an excellent freshman campaign but hit a bit of a sophomore wall last spring. Firman still showed flashes of his potential when he shadowed Duke star Myles Jones for much of their match up in the Dome, and held him to one of his worst games of the year. Austin Fusco will be the primary backup but there are three talented backups, including two true freshmen in Andrew Helmer and Jonah Swigart that the staff is extremely high on. With so many talented players and limited minutes the staff may need to move one of the freshmen to close defense to get them on the field.
Close Defense: Despite losing a great crease defender in Sean Young this unit has the potential to rebound from two mediocre years to again be an upper echelon unit. It starts and ends with redshirt senior Brandon Mullins, the first team All-American and heart of the Orange defense. The past two years Mullins has been asked to be the Orange’s #1 defender and has drawn the opposing team’s top attackman almost every game. This year will be no different as Mullins received a multiple preseason awards, including the aforementioned first team All-America selection. The Syracuse staff will continue to lean on Mullins to lead the team and help clean up communication issues that has plagued the defense the last two seasons.
Joining Mullins is fellow senior Jay McDermott and true freshman Nick Mellen. Mellen, an Under Armour All-American, has caught the staff’s eye since fall ball and came into the preseason with a starting spot all but locked up. Much like Mullins, Mellen should be a four year starter for the Orange as his unbelievable quickness will allow him to match up with the smaller, faster attackmen who are currently the rage in Division I lacrosse. Jay McDermott’s hold on a starting spot is much more tenuous. Should he struggle there is no lack of potential replacements biding their time. Seniors Ralph D’Agostino and Bobby Tait have plenty of experience, but the two youngsters Laz Chavez and Tyson Bomberry are the two to watch. The staff is said to be high on the Chavez, who redshirted last season but made an impact in practice. Bomberry was an Under Armour All-American last year and is a talented defender who may be too good to keep off the field despite the depth in front of him.
Goalie: When Warren Hill transferred to Syracuse in the fall of 2014 many assumed he would take over as the starting goalie from Dominic Lamolinara. Surprisingly however, Bobby Wardwell won the job early in the preseason and despite some rocky performances kept the starting job the entire 2015 season. While some will wonder “what if”, this team is clearly Hill’s as he won the job in fall ball and hasn’t looked back since. Having starred at OCC and the World Games, Hill brings a bevy of experience against top end players and shouldn’t be overwhelmed against higher end opponents. Hill dazzled in the fall versus Navy and has continued his strong play in the two recent scrimmages. With only one year of eligibility left Hill will be looking to make a mark in his one year as the starter in net. Junior Evan Molloy is the backup to Hill but barring an injury or a lopsided score Hill will see most, if not all of the playing time.
Faceoff: If there’s one aspect that Syracuse lacrosse fans are not worried about its the play at the X. Ben Williams was a savior for a fanbase that was desperate to find an answer at faceoff after years of struggling following Danny Brennan’s graduation in 2008. Williams won a mind boggling 67% of his faceoffs last year and turned in multiple dominating performances where he was almost unbeatable in certain games. The only concern is that Williams takes so many draws for the Orange that he will wear down by the end of the season, which appeared to be the case toward the end of 2015.
Redshirt junior Cal Paduda impressed the staff in the spring while Williams sat out following off season surgery. Paduda has been hampered by an injury for a large part of the preseason. The one-two punch of Williams and Paduda offers Syracuse one of its best faceoff combos in recent memory and perhaps of all time if Paduda plays as well as the staff thinks he is capable of playing. Despite the praise for Paduda, it’s clear that Ben Williams will still be the go-to guy for the Orange as many lacrosse pundits have him among the top two or three faceoff men in the country. He is simply too valuable to have on the bench for any extended period of time. Coach Desko has mentioned allowing Williams to play some midfield based on his athleticism and offensive skill but his value at the X is too important to risk an injury.
After failing to meet expectation the past two season due to early tournament exits this years team has little in the way of expectations to live up to. Replacing five of six offensive starters and a more stacked then usual ACC have some wondering if this team will have issues simply making the ACC tournament. With that said Syracvuse is clearly a talented team that based on coach Desko’s track record will reload not rebuild. With so much turnover on offense it may take the team a quarter of the season to put everything together and work out the lineups especially at midfield. With expected strong goalie play and exceptional play at the faceoff X, those two areas will be counted on to take some of the pressure off of a rebuilding offense and a defense looking to solidify itself.
The biggest question marks will be on the offensive side of the ball where coach Desko is trying to bridge the gap between his upperclassmen and a very talented freshman class of players who likely need a year of seasoning before they can make a mark. The failure of the 2013 recruiting class to live up to the hype of its No. 2 ranking looms large and puts added pressure on transfers Nick Piroli and Nick Mariano to pick up the slack. Players such as Nick Weston, Jordan Evans and Ryan Simmons need to take the next step for this offense and team to be successful.
Should the offense come together and some of the freshmen thrive given the opportunity this team has the intangibles to make a deep NCAA tourney run.