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March 23, 2010

Lambrecht: Syracuse No Longer Stuck in the Middle

by Gary Lambrecht | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Lambrecht Archive

Syracuse junior Jeremy Thompson has settled in niceley with the Orange's revamped midfield unit, winning faceoffs and adding another scoring threat from outside.

© Matt Riley

When a two-time defending NCAA champion men’s lacrosse team loses 80 percent of its top two midfield lines to graduation, the odds of winning it all again drop significantly -- most of the time.

But as it showed for the umpteenth time Saturday night, Syracuse is not like most Division I programs. The Orange is not title-ready just yet, although you could see the puzzle pieces coming together nicely at Homewood Field, where Syracuse beat Johns Hopkins for a record fourth straight time by coasting to a 10-7 victory.

Syracuse (4-1) had its same old swagger against an even younger Hopkins team, which got killed in the ground ball and faceoff games, failed once again to solve junior goalie John Galloway (seven of nine saves in second half) and turned the ball over seven times in a disastrous first quarter.

One thing the Blue Jays did well was hang tough while playing tons of defense, especially by limiting the potent Orange attack. Yet, it was the X-factor -- the emerging Syracuse midfield -- that ultimately did in Hopkins.

Junior Jeremy Thompson, the much-hyped transfer from Onondaga C.C. and fine faceoff man, looked quite settled in with the first midfield by scoring two goals. And senior Max Bartig, a perennial role player and second-line midfielder, kept getting open on the backside enough to burn the Blue Jays for three huge goals.

Yes, Syracuse remains a work in progress. A more seasoned Orange squad probably blows out Hopkins by six or seven goals.

And, oh yes, Syracuse will make a serious run at becoming the first three-peat champion since Princeton last completed that hat trick in 1998.

“We’re starting to figure out who we are, more so in the midfield,” Syracuse coach John Desko said. “We know our attack. [Stephen Keogh, Chris Daniello, Cody Jamieson] are finishers, and we’re getting [midfielders] to create as we find different combinations. We’re starting to be a little more consistent there.”

Losing five of your top middies, including an entire starting lineup, can be extremely problematic.

New players must step up to initiate the offense from up top and stretch defenses to cause early slides and find open teammates. New players have to control the game between the boxes. And with so much attention focused on Keogh, Daniello and Jamieson, new one-on-one scoring threats have to develop, for example, by taking advantage of short-stick defenders.

Syracuse turned a decisive corner with its depth chart a week before taking down Hopkins, with its 15-12 victory over Georgetown. That was the day that Thompson, junior Josh Amidon (four goals) and converted junior defensive midfielder Jovan Miller -- an excellent dodger and a ground ball machine -- came together as the first midfield unit. Look for them to stay together indefinitely.

The starting attack will be the bread and butter of this Syracuse offense. It already has accounted for 31 of the team’s 62 goals. But the midfield, which has spread 16 goals among its starters and will get more contributions from Bartig and gifted freshman JoJo Marasco as the spring goes on, will have much to say about where the 2010 season ends.

Judging by the way the Syracuse picture is forming in late March, I’m guessing the Orange will be showing off their finished product at M&T Bank Stadium in about two months.

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