February 10, 2011

NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Notebook: Syracuse in Need of Go-To Guy

by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Lambrecht Archive

Syracuse's 6-5 loss in a preseason game against Hofstra reaffirmed its need for a classic dodger or finisher. Is JoJo Marasco that guy?

© Greg Wall

The Syracuse University men's lacrosse team's defense needs no introduction. The Orange led Division I last year in scoring defense, and with goalie John Galloway, close defenseman John Lade and long-stick midfielder Joel White – seniors and reigning first-team All-Americans – back in 2011, expect the 'Cuse to be pretty stingy again.

But the Orange elephant in the room is the Syracuse offense, which struggled noticeably in stretches in its settled game. Sometimes the culprit was turnovers. Other times, it was the lack of a classic dodger or finisher, a guy who consistently demanded the ball in crunch time. You know, guys like Mike Leveille or Steven Brooks or Michael Springer, or one of the Powells or Gaits.

Yes, Syracuse averaged a robust 12.5 goals per game on 30.2 percent shooting. But the Orange piled up some numbers against inferior Big East competition, and leaned more on their transition game than the Syracuse brass would have liked. The Syracuse faithful still hasn't forgotten those long scoring droughts and the 19-turnover disaster that turned into a 9-8, first-round, double-overtime loss to Army at the Carrier Dome in last year's NCAA tournament.

And the offense wasn't exactly smooth in a 6-5 loss to Hofstra last week in its preseason opener.

"Offensively, we've been sort of holding our own without our big names back there. We've got depth," Orange coach John Desko said. "We need somebody to step it up. We need a go-to guy."

That guy could turn out to be sophomore attackman JoJo Marasco, a speedy, gifted playmaker who had nine goals and eight assists in 2010, but missed the season's final five games with a leg injury.

Full-time lacrosse coach, part-time weatherman

The University of Delaware annually plays the first collegiate men's lacrosse game in the nation. And once again last Saturday, the Blue Hens successfully kicked off their spring season – amidst the dead of winter.

The Blue Hens trounced Detroit Mercy, 13-5, on a day in which 10 different players scored, while outstanding junior attackman Grant Kaleikau was hospitalized with food poisoning (he was released on Tuesday). It marked Delaware's ninth straight, season-opening victory.

In another notable statistical category, Delaware took care of its business while playing in a steady rain, with wind chill temperatures hovering in the mid-20s. Nothing like lacrosse on the day before the Super Bowl, eh?

The days of opening the Division I season in early March have long been dead. Over the past decade, more teams have been starting earlier and earlier in February. This is due in part to the growth of conferences and conference tournaments, and the choice of many coaches to schedule 15 regular season games while playing most of them once a week.

Delaware has become one of the poster teams for getting out early. This year, the Blue Hens were on the practice field on Jan. 3, before opening their season for the second straight year on Feb. 5. The team never missed a day of scheduled practice outside.

"If you're a lacrosse coach, you're always a part-time weatherman," said Blue Hens coach Bob Shillinglaw, entering his 33rd season on the Newark campus. "I'm flipping through three channels, checking different reports online or in the paper, looking for the [forecast] I like. Players adapt [to bad weather]. We keep them moving to keep them warm, and people would be surprised at how practicing in the cold can be conducive to getting things done."

It helps that Delaware Stadium, like so many collegiate facilities, has a field turf surface, which is easier to clear in the event of snow. It helps that players can take advantage of better quality underwear to maintain a more comfortable body temperature when playing in cold conditions.

"I had to tell some of the guys not to take off their sweats during our pre-game drills [on Saturday]. They were ready to go," Shillinglaw said. "We got the win, and we won the battle against the weather."

No setbacks for Boland

Coming off of its first losing season since 1971, Johns Hopkins had a productive scrimmage at Penn State on Saturday, as the Blue Jays eased out to a 7-4 victory over the Nittany Lions.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign came courtesy of fifth-year senior attackman Chris Boland, who is fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his 2010 season after two games. Boland scored two goals against Penn State.

"I feel light on my feet," said Boland, who at 5-foot-11 is in terrific shape at 185 pounds. "In terms of my agility and footwork and my ability to make sharp cuts and change direction, I feel really good. No setbacks so far."

The Blue Jays very much need Boland to play like his old, crafty self in 2011. An excellent shooter and passer with either hand, Boland is instinctive and creative around the crease. His ability to draw double teams should make senior attackman Kyle Wharton a more effective, open-field shooter.

Boland led Hopkins in scoring in 2009 with 46 points. He netted 28 goals while shooting a blistering 52.8 percent. He scored four goals in two games last year before tearing his ACL against UMBC.

The Hopkins staff held Boland out of fall competition. Ten months after having knee surgery, the Blue Jays' most versatile scoring threat appears ready to roll.

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