Syracuse Catching Up After Mumps Outbreak


Stephen Rehfuss, who scored the game winner in Syracuse's NCAA tournament victory over Yale, will be counted on as a top contributor in 2018.

US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 8. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on throughout January and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition that mails to US Lacrosse members Feb. 1 — opening day of the 2018 college lacrosse season.

No. 11 Syracuse

2017 Record: 13-3 (4-0 ACC)
Coach: John Desko (20th year)
All-Time Record: 885-340-16
NCAA Appearances: 37
Final Fours: 27
Championships: 10

As Syracuse gets into the meat of another challenging schedule, few will be thinking about what an unusual fall season it was for the Orange – unless they get off to a bad start and struggle early against its formidable Atlantic Coast Conference competition.

Coach John Desko, who will lead Syracuse for the 20th season, is not dwelling on what a uniquely disruptive fall season Syracuse encountered. But there is little doubt the Orange have some fast catching up to do.

About two weeks into fall practices, an outbreak of mumps on campus, confirmed in part after members of the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams were diagnosed with the illness, compelled the university to shut down lacrosse activities indefinitely. By mid-November, following a four-week interruption, fall practices had begun again.

In the end, the Orange engaged in 24 workouts, which Desko said is about normal. But the team was unable to compete in any of its four scheduled scrimmages. Syracuse officially began preseason practices on Jan. 10.

Desko wonders if that missed preparation time will have an detrimental effect on a team that includes 17 true freshmen and 12 more players who are either redshirt freshmen or sophomores. Syracuse lost 11 seniors to graduation from last year’s 13-3 squad. The losses included attackman Jordan Evans and midfielders Sergio Salcido and Nick Mariano – the top three scorers for the Orange – along with faceoff specialist Ben Williams and goalie Evan Molloy.

“It was disturbing,” Desko said of the forced layoff in mid-fall. “We have a lot of freshmen we expect to compete for spots, and the fall is the time to learn offenses and defenses and get tested against competition in scrimmages. You learn so much [as young players] about the officiating and about game situations in the fall.

“And then there is strength and conditioning as a team, which is such an important piece to all of this,” he added. “It’s the kind of important time that you can’t replace.”

One month after their first preseason practice, the Orange will open the season against visiting Binghamton, which is coming off an 11-5 season. That will be followed by visits from America East power and in-state rival Albany – the Orange slipped by the Great Danes 10-9 last year – and expected Patriot League contender Army. The Black Knights handed Syracuse a 14-13 loss in the Carrier Dome a year ago. Johns Hopkins and the ACC loom after that.

One thing is certain. Preseason scrimmages against Yale, Hofstra and Division II LeMoyne will carry especially crucial weight for Desko’s staff.


The Case For Syracuse

No matter how compromised the preparation time might be, and no matter how young the roster is, the cupboard is never bare in upstate New York’s legendary lacrosse home. Senior Brendan Bomberry, who spent considerable time at midfield in 2017, leads the attack group after starting all 16 games and producing 38 points with 51-percent shooting. Junior Nate Solomon, another 16-game starter, tied Bomberry for second-highest on the team with 28 goals on 42.4-percent shooting. Lefty and redshirt sophomore Stephen Rehfuss moves into the starting lineup after scoring 12 goals in a secondary role, including the game-winner against Yale in the 11-10 NCAA tournament first-round win.

The Case Against Syracuse

Talented young players can help a Division I team go places, and Syracuse will lean on its share, maybe too much so. Sophomore midfielder Jamie Trimboli (12 goals) is the leading scorer among returnees. The question marks abound from there. Redshirt senior Matt Lane and redshirt senior Ryan Simmons combined for 13 scores on the second line and could fill out the first group. The second or third lines could include freshmen Brendan Curry, Tucker Dordevic and Dami Oladunmoye. The goalie and faceoff spots are major question marks. Ben Williams owned the FOGO spot for three seasons. For now, it belongs to sophomore Dan Varello. Fifth-year senior Dom Madonna takes over in goal, with freshmen Drake Porter and William Klan giving chase. That’s an awful lot of youth to tangle with the ACC.

Path to the Playoffs

The Orange won nine one-goal games last year. It is doubtful Syracuse could string together something like a 13-3 record that way in 2018. Avoiding bad losses and taking care of business in the high-powered ACC is typically the formula. If the Orange develops its youth while winning two of three at home to start the year against Binghamton, Albany and Army, that would be a good start. Holding its own with a 2-2 mark against the ACC would be fine in the regular season, but the Orange need to take down Hopkins at home – one of nine regular-season games at the Carrier Dome – or at least avoid a misstep or two against the likes of Rutgers and in-state rivals Cornell and Hobart. The Orange might need to win at least one ACC tournament game to seal another trip to the NCAAs.

Players To Watch

Dom Madonna, G, Sr.
9.69 GAA, 42.9 SV%

Madonna steps in to replace Evan Molloy, who started all 16 games and played nearly every minute in the cage. All of those close decisions limited Madonna to three appearances and just 25 minutes in games. Don’t be surprised if the fifth-year senior eventually yields to either redshirt sophomore William Klan, who played on the U.S. under-19 team, or true sophomore Drake Porter (Canada U-19).

Nick Mellen, D, R-So.
14 CT, 38 GB (2016)

On a close defensive unit that includes returning starters Marcus Cunningham and Tyson Bomberry, Mellen is back after a season-ending injury ended his 2017 season early. At 5-foot-9, 178 pounds, Mellen, who started as a freshman and ranked second on the team with 14 caused turnovers and third with 38 ground balls, might be the best cover guy of the bunch.

Dan Varello, FO, So.
52.2 FO%

Varello played in the shadow of Ben Williams, who took 336 draws as a senior, while Varello worked in to go 24-for-46. Varello is the clear favorite to fuel the Orange offense early, but three newcomers could make this a battle. Freshmen Nate Garlow and Jakob Phaup and senior Seth DeLisle, a transfer from Division III Nazareth, will compete.

National Rankings




Offense 12th 12.06 GPG
Defense 27th 10.06 GAA
Faceoffs 24th 52.8%
Ground Balls 30th 28.06/game
Caused TO 50th 6.00/game
Shooting 12th 32.2%
Man-Up 5th 50.0%
Man-Down 32nd 66.0%
Assists 5th 8.25/game
Turnovers 5th 10.88/game
Clearing 1st 91.9%

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)






That’s how many times Syracuse has been to the final four since winning its last NCAA championship in 2009. The Orange has not played on Memorial Day weekend since 2013, when it lost to Duke in the final after Blue Devils faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler took over the game. The advancing state of parity in the sport makes a repeat of that 22-year final four streak (1983-2004) look impossible.

5-Year Trend
Man-Down Defense




2013 50th 59.4%
2014 44th 61.3%
2015 16th 68.8%
2016 61st 53.5%
2017 32nd 66.0%

Coach Confidential
John Desko

“We had a lot of one-goal games last year, which means we got a lot of good experience. But a lot of our youth is going to have to play for us this year. Every coach says his team has to get better every week, but that is really the case for us this year, especially after the fall that we had. If our schedule doesn’t kill us, it will make us stronger.”

Enemy Lines
Rival Coaches

“This mumps outbreak and the resulting two months absence of fall lacrosse will either be a really good thing or really bad for the Orange. ... Interesting concept to attack fall lacrosse slowly upon return to campus – only have skill sessions, then take a few months off keeping everyone edgy and dying to play, and the start up in mid-November closer to the real season. If any program can pull this off, it would be the one with three indoor facilities. Duke has been doing similar to this for years. Works great in the long term but they are always susceptible to a bad loss in February. ... Three top scorers are gone, but one of the best offensive coordinators in the game, Kevin Donahue, will have ample weapons highlighted by Stephen Rehfuss, Jamie Trimboli, Nate Solomon and Brendan Bomberry. ... Standout defenseman Nick Mellen returns after missing all of 2017 due to injury. ... The ACC is a vacant waste land when it comes to returning FO men, but word on the street is that the Orange have the best newbie in a transfer from Nazareth (Seth DeLisle). ... Nine one-goal wins in 2017. Good indicator or bad? ... If you take the orange off this team, nobody would think twice about ranking them this low.  I don’t think they are an overly talented group. ... The thing about Syracuse is they always have guys who come out of nowhere. It’s their turn, and they’re guys who you’ve never heard of and will play great from the start. They’ve practiced against the first team, and the guy on the practice team suddenly is great. They’re always in the hunt.”

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