Fall Ball Focus: Syracuse Ripe for a Reinvention

PHOTO COURTESY OF SYRACUSE ATHLETICS

Joey Spallina, the top-ranked freshman in his class, will wear No. 22 this year.


Things were new at Syracuse last season because it was Gary Gait’s first season as head coach after moving over from a long stint coaching the Orange’s women’s program.

And this fall? Gait’s still around, but only a handful of steady contributors remain from last spring.

Syracuse saw 77.4 percent of its points depart (216 of 279). Players who accounted for 74.3 percent of its starts (104 of 140) are no longer with the program.

And considering the Orange went 4-10 last year, the extreme makeover probably isn’t the worst thing.

“We’ve had a considerable amount of turnover,” Gait said. “I think, obviously, what we learned last year is that with the players that we had, we weren’t able to do some things, and unfortunately we came up on the short end, whether due to some injuries or lack of certain players in certain positions.”

It isn’t a roster with a bunch of knowns, at least not because of their time in a Syracuse uniform. The Orange bring back three players who started at least half the season last year — defenseman Nick Caccamo and midfielders Griffin Cook and Tyler Cordes.

All four of Syracuse’s 20-point contributors departed, thanks to a mix of graduation and transfers. Faceoff man Jakob Phaup graduated. Starting goalie Bobby Gavin came and went in a semester.

All of which makes Syracuse ripe for a reinvention.

“I think we’re going to play differently,” Gait said. “You’re going to see the ball move much quicker on the offensive end of the field. On the defensive end, we feel a lot more comfortable about the guys we have in the positions and the communication skills.”

It also means fall ball is a vital opportunity to make progress.

“We have a new group of players that provide us the ability to do different things,” Gait said. “From the defensive end to the offensive end, we’re certainly going to be young, and they’re going to have to develop. It’s a different skillset than we had last year.”

LAST SEASON

In a nutshell, the Orange could hardly stop anyone in Gait’s debut season, and it explained a great deal of the program’s nosedive. Syracuse ranked 66th nationally in scoring defense (14.71 goals per game) and last out of 72 Division I teams in man-down defense, getting a stop just 42.6 percent of the time.

That put exquisite pressure on an offense that got the ball a good amount (.578 faceoff percentage, ninth nationally) but wasn’t particularly efficient when it did (28.3 percent shooting, 41st) even with the since-graduated-and-now-at-Georgetown Tucker Dordevic (47 goals, 12 assists) and Brendan Curry (34 goals, 19 assists) creating problems.

Syracuse yielded an average of 17.5 goals during a year-ending six-game skid that sealed the program’s first 10-loss season.







BIGGEST FALL QUESTION

How quickly will Syracuse’s portal additions acclimate?

Truth be told, there is no shortage of questions surrounding the Orange, and nothing besides outside competition that counts is going to effectively answer most of them.

That, obviously, will have to wait until the spring.

Progress can be gauged on how the veteran newcomers adjust, and Syracuse is counting on attackmen Alex Simmons (Denver) and Cole Kirst (Lehigh) and goalie Will Mark (LIU), among others, to make an impact.

“Will Mark is looking great, and Alex Simmons is looking awesome and Cole Kirst,” Gait said. “They’re definitely guys who are in the mix to play this year. I think they were good pickups for us, and they’re going to support our young guys and support our returners. I think they’re going to fit in with what we want to do.”

MARQUEE ADDITION: JOEY SPALLINA

The heralded attackman is the new No. 22 at Syracuse, the highest of high-end recruits who commanded attention throughout his high school career.

And the early impressions of the nation’s No. 1-ranked freshman, who is the all-time leading scorer in Long Island high school lacrosse history with 507 points? Extremely encouraging for the Orange.

“He’s got great lacrosse IQ,” Gait said. “Coach’s son. Understands the game. He’s up for the challenge. I think that’s the biggest thing. He’s open to do whatever we ask. People ask, ‘Is he as good as people say he is?’ I think he’s certainly brought his A-game to fall ball, and he’s trying to prove himself and he’s doing a pretty good job so far. “

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: JACKSON BIRTWISTLE

The Orange already got a hint of what the sophomore could do at the tail end of last season. He played in just three of Syracuse’s first 10 games and had only one goal.

But he collected 13 goals over the final four games and started the final two contests to establish himself as part of Syracuse’s future.

“He made a nice run at the end of the year, has really gained that level of confidence and he’s a goal scorer,” Gait said. “We expect him to continue to make an impact on the program.”

At the defensive end, it’s hard to categorize sophomore Nick Caccamo as a true breakthrough possibility. That happened last year when he started 11 games and led the Orange with 24 caused turnovers. Nonetheless, he’s emerging as a defensive leader and will certainly find himself in the spotlight more after learning on the job last spring.

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