February 8, 2014

Lambrecht's Notes: Daddio Prepped for Comeback

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

Senior Chris Daddio is hoping for redemption after an up-and-down 2013. (Greg Wall)

Syracuse senior faceoff man Chris Daddio was as baffled and frustrated as anyone with his up-and-down performance in 2013. One of Daddio's lasting, unpleasant memories from an otherwise great season for Syracuse was getting pulled in the NCAA title game after getting schooled repeatedly by faceoff star Brendan Fowler, who did that to plenty of opponents.

The ensuing offseason was dominated by one question. Will the Orange get better at the X? Head coach John Desko sure wanted to know last fall, when he auditioned a line of faceoff specialists in an effort to resolve the most pressing issue at Syracuse.

The Orange, ranked no. 2 coming into the 2014 season, found creative ways to win numerous close games with steady defense and situational offense. Syracuse finished 16-4, despite winning just 42 percent of their faceoff attempts. The Orange's unlikely run to Memorial Day came crashing down that day, when Fowler won 14 of 15 draws in the second and third periods, as an early 5-1, Syracuse lead disappeared and turned into a 16-10 rout by the Blue Devils.

"We basically watched the game after scoring the first four goals," Desko said. "And we realized we had to get more competitive [facing off]. The doors were wide open [last fall] for a faceoff man with some credentials. We had a stable."

And guess who responded to the challenge? Sitting atop the Syracuse depth chart is still Daddio, the 5-10 product of Loudoun Valley High in Purcellville, Va. As the Orange prepares to open its season on Feb. 10 against visiting Siena, juniors Ricky Buhr and Mike Iacono are pushing for faceoff roles, as are freshman Joe DiMarco and injured sophomore Cal Paduda. But Daddio is still the guy.

"Faceoffs are all about rhythm. Every faceoff opponent is a different game within the game," said Daddio, who has worked hard to improve his ground-ball work. "I just want to stop talking about it this year, and do it every game, not here and there. I've been hearing negative stuff since my freshman year. It definitely rips me up inside a bit. I need to soak that in and just get it done."

Fletcher No Longer an Unknown for Loyola

Loyola coach Charley Toomey remembers the 2012 preseason well. The Greyhounds were a surly bunch, miffed at being bumped out of the top 20, and ready to turn loose an up-tempo game predicated on forcing turnovers and scoring in transition. They had talent and host of personalities – colorful players such as LSM Scott Ratliff and defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins and goalie Jack Runkel, and silent, killer finishers such as Eric Lusby and Mike Sawyer.

Then there was unassuming no. 17. That would be then-sophomore close defenseman Joe Fletcher, who might not have uttered a dozen words on the practice field back then. But man, the kid out of West Genesee High in Syracuse could mark his man, check with precision and was a ground ball machine.

Everybody in the lacrosse world knows about Fletcher now. A year after earning first-team, All-America honors, and two years after being the most underrated force on Loyola's first and only Division I national champion in any sport, Fletcher has earned a spot – the only active collegiate player – on the U.S. National Team that will compete at the 2014 World Championships in Denver in July.

"We were the beneficiary of [Fletcher] not being recruited too much by schools like Harvard and Cornell. He needed a year in the weight room, but all you had to do was look at the film of him in practice as a freshman to see how fundamentally sound he was. Textbook," Toomey said.

"He would knock down skip passes with ease and get the ball off the ground with two people battling him. He was a Hoover [vacuum cleaner]. But he didn't say anything. He was our man-down specialist that first year. By his sophomore year, he had become our no. 1 cover guy and you couldn't beat him to a ground ball. You would get Fletch-ed."

By the beginning of that historic, 2012 season, the Greyhounds could score explosively. But what set that team apart from the rest of Division I was the six-on-six defense that was airtight by May. The takeaways and offensive runs by Hawkins and Ratliff were exciting to watch and demoralizing for opponents. All along, though, Fletcher was the anchor who negated great scoring threats with regularity and rarely required defensive help while doing it.

Now, "Fletch" is a more vocal leader as Loyola's co-captain, with ever-sharper grasp of fundamentals that make him the Greyhounds' best player and arguably the best defenseman in Division I.

How Early Can it Go?

Another season-opening weekend has passed, and we are left to ponder. How long before regular-season lacrosse games are played in January? When Lehigh beat Furman and Delaware bested High Point on February 1, the "spring" sport once again had launched the day before the Super Bowl was played.

It's not unusual anymore for Division I schools to be on the practice field a few days into January.

"Syracuse and Delaware started practice on January 3. The Ivy League doesn't practice until February 1. Virginia is playing six games in February," said Albany coach Scott Marr, who is clearly disturbed by the winterization of lacrosse, especially in the frigid upstate air this time of year.

"We don't have nice indoor facilities like some Big 10 schools and other places closer to us," Marr added, taking a jab at Syracuse, which Albany will visit at the Carrier Dome again on Feb. 16.

"Sure, we can play our sport in the cold, but it really kills our crowds. And sometimes you have to stop running them at practice and do some teaching. More of our kids are getting hurt this time of the year, with tight muscles and hamstrings. [This trend] has got to stop."

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