There are very few places around college lacrosse where expectations run as high as they do at Syracuse. It's like the Orange invented electricity in the 1980's, refined the combustion engine to peak performance in 1990's, and found a way to make the jet pack economically viable as a personal transportation device in the 2000's. With all that history, folks seem to now want Syracuse to make time travel a legitimate possibility in the 2010's, and that may be asking a little too much for a program that is built around winning lacrosse games, not redefining physics and engineering.
It's not like Syracuse had a terrible season in 2012; this was a team that won the Big East Tournament -- under some admittedly unlikely circumstances -- and played fairly well against a solid Duke team in the NCAA Tournament. It was a 9-8 lacrosse team -- pretty decent in an era of increased competitiveness across Division I -- and didn't smell anything like the 5-8 effort in 2007 that made folks want to buy cans of kerosene and boxes of matches and look through the phonebook for John Desko's address.
And yet, there is still unfulfillment among Syracuse fans; questions are everywhere about what Syracuse may or may not have in 2013. The Orange hasn't been to Championship Weekend since 2009, and the Orange haven't had an absence of this length from college lacrosse's biggest showcase since, well, before 1983. The natives are getting restless; luckily, senior midfield JoJo Marasco is around to allay everyone's fears (at least for the time being).
Marasco talked with Lacrosse Magazine's Matt Forman not too long ago, touching base on all kinds of things, including what it's like to wear "22," Marasco's and the team's goals for 2013, and his comfort around playing midfield rather than in-close at attack. What interested me the most, though, was Marasco's comments about how Syracuse expects to replace the production it lost due to graduation and who has shown solid development this fall:
What's been the focus this fall offensively, aside from the rules stuff? You lose three of your top six scorers in Tommy Palasek, Tim Desko and Bobby Eilers.
Those seniors last year were great for us, and they stepped up as seniors and scored some big points. But we return some guys who were real young last year as freshmen, like Hakeem Lecky and Henry Schoonmaker. They've come back in even better shape, knowing the game and being even smarter. They're going to step up in the midfield. Attack-wise, we've got some guys coming back too. Kevin Rice saw the field last year, and Billy Ward is a guy who works harder than anyone on the field. He's playing really well so far. We've got some guys who are making strides and filling the spots, trying to help out Derek Maltz as much as possible, because he's one of the best finishers in the game. We're working real well, and the coaches are working hard with us, just trying to get these guys comfortable playing new positions.
Has anyone specifically stood out to you?
Luke Cometti has really stepped up as a senior. He transferred from Albany, and last year he was hurt all fall, so it was tough for him to get into the mold. He had some big goals for us last year toward the end of the season, but I really think he's going to have a breakout year. He's working so hard. He's stepping up as a leader.
Also Derek Maltz. The guy is unbelievable with his hands. He knows the game so well. And he has been stepping up big-time.
Mikey Daniello is looking great this fall. He's coming from a different school, so it's going to take some time for him to get used to it. But he fits real well in this Syracuse offense. He's a good dodger. He's really working on his right hand. He can get up top lefty, he can shoot the ball, and he's smart. He's been fun to watch.
So there's a lot of weapons to replace the departed seniors?
Absolutely. This year, midfield-wise, we have a lot of speed, which is really going to help us with these new rules. We have some finishers on attack now who are pretty crafty and pretty smart with the ball too. I'm excited about that. I don't really see it being a big problem, especially with our defense, with the way we basically return everyone. Their such a powerhouse, that it'll be helpful for our offense.
I'm less concerned about Syracuse's attack than the situation through the offensive midfield, but:
- If Nicky Galasso should end up on The Hill for 2013, an attack of Maltz-Galasso-Daniello has the potential to be among the stronger units in the country. All the talk this fall about Daniello has been positive, and if he can provide another dodging presence in-close, this would free Galasso to fill his role as a distributor while Maltz can expertly work off-ball -- where he is most comfortable -- to receive and finish. If Galasso doesn't wear orange in the spring, a Maltz-Daniello-Rice/Ward line still has the potential to be pretty good, although I'm skeptical that the Daniello-Rice/Ward combination has everything in place (at least at the beginning of the season) to really make Maltz sing as a finisher. That line would need to develop. It would also feature a literal high-low game between Maltz (6'2") and Rice/Ward (5'8").
- The starting midfield line for the Syracuse alumni scrimmage was Marasco-Hakeem Lecky-Luke Cometti; the second line was Scott Loy-Henry Schoonmaker-Matt Walters; the third line was Ryan Barber-Matt Pratt-Joe Gillis. Nothing here is set in stone. For a team that struggled to get any offense out of its midfield in 2012 -- Marasco and Bobby Eilers were the only midfielders that topped the 20-point plateau last year (and Marasco only shot 18.2 percent on the season) -- this remains the biggest concern for the Orange entering 2013. For a team that has the athletes to take advantage of the new rules around restarts and substitutions, a lot of Syracuse's success and/or failures may be attributed, almost directly, to how this unit performs.