Head coach John Desko, now in his sixth season with the Orange, has led his team to five straight final fours and two national titles. The Orangemen are coming off a 10-6 season and a disappointing 19-8 loss to Johns Hopkins in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD.
Syracuse loses some key players on attack, midfield and defense, but as has been the case with the lacrosse program over the years, the Orangemen don't rebuild, they just reload.
"We don't have the depth we enjoyed having in the past few years," Desko admitted. "But, it's a good group and when we put 10 guys out there on the field, we can be very competitive."
Heading into last year, they were the defending national champs. With no target on their back as they head into the 2004 campaign,the Orangemen are gunning for the gold again.
Graduation cost the Orangemen one of the hottest shots in the land in first-team All-American Michael Springer and steady performer Liam Banks, but Desko welcomes back senior Michael Powell for his final season.
The strength of the team heading into the 2004 season is on the offensive end of the field where the three-time All-American Powell and Brian Nee, also a senior, are back at attack. Brian Crockett who played at midfield last season, will be evaluated at the attack position said Desko.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see him going to attack," Desko said of Crockett. "That will give us a strong attack."
Powell, who received the Jack Turnbull Award (Attackman of the Year) for the third consecutive season at the USILA All-American Awards banquet in June, led the team in scoring with 64 points (31 goals, 33 assists). He was fourth in the nation in points per game (4.00) and eighth in assists per game. The owner of 218 career points (103 goals), Powell needs 70 points this season to break his older brothers' school scoring record. Both Casey and Ryan Powell each tallied 287 career points during their four-year careers at SU.
Nee finished out the season strong for the Orange. He scored three goals against Dartmouth in the NCAA First Round, two against Princeton and two against Hopkins. His seven goals in three NCAA Tournament games tied Michael Springer for the team lead. Nee was tied for fifth on the team in scoring with 30 points (24 goals).
Crockett was SU's top-scoring freshman last season and tied for fifth (with Nee) in scoring. He was the only rookie in the starting lineup. In the NCAA Tournament, he recorded four goals and one assist in SU's first two games (two goals versus Dartmouth and two goals/one assist versus Princeton.)
If Crockett shifts to attack, Desko will still have two players back on the first midfield with seniors Sean Lindsay and Steve Vallone returning.
Lindsay, named an honorable mention All-American, finished as the Orangemen's third leading scorer in 2003 with a career-high 36 points. He was the team's third leading goal scorer with 29 tallies.
Vallone who missed the last four games of the season after sustaining a jaw injury in the first quarter of the UMass game on April 26, scored a career-high 24 points (20 goals in 12 games).
Desko also expects Alex Zink, Greg Rommel, Brent Bucktooth, Jarett Park, Jake Plunket and Zach Wallace to be contributors.
Zink scored 11 goals last season, Rommel had nine, while Park had eight. Rommel was the second-leading freshman scorer behind Crockett. Park, who also plays soccer at SU, led the team in groundballs for the second consecutive season with 78. During his freshman campaign in lacrosse, Park had 91 groundballs.
Plunket who shared faceoff duties last season with senior Chris Bickel, will be the primary faceoff guy this season.
"I think the strength would be the offense coming back," Desko said. "Offensively, these guys can put up a lot of points for us."
On defense, the Orangemen lose the anchor of their defense in close defenseman and All-American Solomon Bliss.
Desko will rely on Dan DiPietro and Donn Vidosh, along with three-year starting goalie Jay Pfeifer for leadership and experience on that end of the field.
DiPietro plays in front of Pfeifer as a close defenseman. Last year, he made a smooth transfer to Syracuse from Johns Hopkins and earned a starting position for the entire season. He is an aggressive defender who is not afraid to take chances.
Pfeifer, who started all 16 games in goal for the Orange during the 2003 season, posted a 10.48 goals against average and a .542 save percentage. He recorded 188 saves. Pfeifer has been the Orangemen's starting goalie the past 33 outings. Syracuse is 25-8 with Pfeifer starting in goal.
"Hopefully, with the experience on defense returning, they can step up and hopefully the defensemen coming in can contribute right away."
Three freshmen that Desko and his staff will be looking closely at are Steve Panarelli and Dan Brennan, teammates at Farmingdale HS and Dustin Palmer from Cherry Creek HS in Colorado.
Panarelli and Brennan were football and lacrosse teammates. Panarelli is a defenseman, while Brennan is a midfielder and will be looked at in the faceoff circle. The two led Farmingdale to within a goal of the state championship in June. Panarelli who was named Defensive MVP of the championship, is considered to be the best freshman defenseman in the country.
"He's very talented," Desko said of Panarelli, who was a member of the Under-19 National Team. "I see him contributing right away."
Palmer is also a defenseman and is the first recruit from the state of Colorado to sign with the Orangemen.
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