2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 14 Syracuse (Men)

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES

Owen Hiltz found instant success as a freshman with 29 goals and 19 assists.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 14 SYRACUSE

2021 Record: 7-6 (2-4 ACC)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 14
Coach: Gary Gait (1st year)

An undefeated — albeit shortened due to COVID-19 — 2020 season gave the Syracuse faithful confidence heading into 2021.

The Orange were returning fifth-year stalwarts like Stephen Rehfuss, Drake Porter, Peter Dearth and Jamie Trimboli. They were even ranked No. 2 heading into the season.

But they ultimately finished 7-6 and were outside of the top 10 at the end of the spring. Their season came to an end in an 18-8 loss to Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the latest in a string of early postseason exits for the proud program.

A couple of weeks later, legendary head coach John Desko, who won 11 NCAA titles (five as head coach) and won 529 games in his 46 years with the team, announced his retirement. The speculation about who would take over the team began almost immediately. And nearly everyone landed on the same individual.

With a historic program like Syracuse, which has only had four head coaches since 1916, it was only fitting that another legend take the lead. Enter Gary Gait.

Fresh off taking the Syracuse women’s team to the national championship game — a major accomplishments considering the injuries that ravaged the offensive end and allowed for others to step into larger roles admirably — Gait made the shift to the men’s program.

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

Gait, who spent 14 years with the women’s team, won three national titles as a player with Syracuse.

“I’m always willing to take on anything and take on new challenges, and certainly this is one of them,” Gait said. “There’s great talent on every team in our conference, but every year, it comes down to that chemistry and which offensive or defensive unit really steps up in games that really determines who’s the team to beat that year. We’re certainly working on that ourselves. We’ll probably be slated at the bottom of our conference, but that’s OK. We’ll earn it and work our way towards the top of conference as we go through it.”

One of the things Gait will be relying on this season is leadership. Brendan Curry, Tucker Dordevic, Brett Kennedy and Owen Seebold are the four captains. Curry is just the second player in Syracuse lacrosse history to be named a three-time captain.

“We have some great leadership,” Gait said. “They’ve been helping us make adjustments, and they've helped the players to buy into anything and everything that we’ve asked of them. They’re great young men, and they want to do what they can to leave a mark on this program and more importantly, they want an opportunity to come back and compete again for a national championship. When you have your eye on an end goal like that, it makes it easy to develop a way to be and how you want to act as a leader.”

While Gait has yet to even take this team to the field for a real game, there’s already a lot of talk about how talented they can be, especially with the staff that Gait has brought on. Gait hired Dave Pietramala — another all-time legend — as an assistant coach and TD Ierlan as a volunteer assistant coach.

“I love my staff,” Gait said. “Dave is arguably one of the best defenders to ever play, and there’s a reason TD is one of the greatest faceoff men to ever play college lacrosse. Then you have a guy like Pat March that’s just a guru of lacrosse as far as talent, clubs and high school players, and he’s developed a real solid knowledge of operating an offense at a high level. Hopefully, the key, like it is everywhere, is you got to put it all together on both ends of the field and special teams.”

As far as the offense goes, Gait said they think they have something to prove this year. There’s not one true guy who is taking in all the spotlight.

“I think they have a chip on their shoulders, and they’re looking to prove that they’re better than they were last year,” he said. “That makes them all strive to show that they’re going to do some different things year and that last year was a little bit of an off year for the whole offense.”

A rejuvenated Syracuse program not short on talent could be a scary thought for the ACC and the lacrosse world at large.







TOP RETURNERS

Brendan Curry, M, Sr.

The three-time All American and three-time captain is one of the most experienced players on the team. Curry’s started 42 straight games for the Orange, scoring 60 goals and recording 35 assists in just 47 games played.

Tucker Dordevic, M, Jr.

The first-time captain is set for another big year. Dordevic started all 13 games last year, when he recorded 23 goals and eight assists and was named a USILA third-team All-American.

Owen Hiltz, A, So.

Hiltz had no trouble finding instant success as a freshman. Last year, he started all but one game and finished the season with 29 goals and 19 assists. The Peterborough, Ontario, native had a career-high performance against Robert Morris, finishing with nine points.

KEY ADDITION

Bobby Gavin, G, So.

While this is every Syracuse player's first year under Gary Gait, no player has had less time with the program than Gavin. On Dec. 22, it was announced that Gavin would transfer from Virginia to Syracuse. Gavin appeared in eight games and started two games for UVA and brings a championship-contending experience with him.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Owen Seebold, A, Sr.

In the penultimate game of the season, Seebold recorded seven points against Robert Morris. It was a glimpse of what could be for the attackman this year.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Orange:

“Who knows? Right now it’s a new staff, so new chemistry at the top. I hate to see John Desko leave, he was such a good man and really good for our sport. He was a Syracuse man through and through, but all things do evolve, and it will be fascinating to watch the chemistry as Coach Gait makes the transition from the women’s game to the men’s game.” 

“Interesting. What are the changes on the offensive and defensive end? That’s the first thing. What’s their learning curve?” 

“Anyone who is a Syracuse fan has to be excited. They do return some dangerous offensive guys.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

59.3%

The story of Syracuse in 2021 was great offense, not so great defense. And when you factor in their schedule, the offensive numbers look even better. They were the ninth-best offense in terms of raw efficiency, but fourth when you account for the strength of the defenses they faced (even without Lehigh on that list). But the jewel in their statistical crown was the EMO unit, which was the second-best in the country at 59.3 percent (opponent-adjusted).— Zack Capozzi

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