Duke players jumping in celebration became the final sight of an exasperated Syracuse team for the second season in a row Monday as SU fell short at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and surrendered the 2013 NCAA Lacrosse Championship to the Blue Devils, 16-10. Syracuse created chances for itself and jumped out to an early 5-0 lead on the shoulders of a tremendous performance from goalie Dominic Lamonlinara and his defensive crew, but allowed Duke to claw back into the game. Duke trailed by just one goal going into halftime.
What followed was the last thing John Desko could have planned: Syracuse would lose nearly every faceoff to Duke draw specialist Brendan Fowler. The possession streak allowed the Blue Devils to hammer Lamolinara with shots from all distances, and slowly break down a defense that had allowed 7 goals per game on average in the NCAAs, earning it the unspoken title of best defense in the country. After that defense allowed a ghastly 12-1 run, the Syracuse sails were windless. A team that had come so much farther than anyone could have possibly expected stood still as what had started as their day quickly became a dominant display of Duke offense.
Playing defense all day long against one of the best scoring units in the nation eventually wore this SU team down, said Senior captain defender Brian Megill.
“Their faceoff guy is something special. And their offense is even more special. We knew they were going to go on a run, and we just had to try and stop the bleeding. The first quarter, we came out with a lot of passion, we knew what they were going to do, and we knew what we were going to be doing all game, we just got lackadaisical in the talking. When you lose faceoffs like we were, and they score, get the ball back, score, and get the ball back, it’s tough. It takes a toll on your body.”
Faceoffs once again proved to be the achilles for the Orange. During that Duke onslaught that spanned most of the 2nd and 3rd quarters, SU managed to win a grand total of one faceoff draw. In other words, Duke’s Fowler took the ball for his team 14 of 15 times during the middle two quarters, which would give him the game’s Most Outstanding Player award. Fowler was quicker and stronger than any of the six different players Desko tried at X during the course of the game.
The performance of this team in the biggest of moments, however disappointing, can’t overshadow its achievements. The midseason adjustment to a redesigned style of offensive play represents some of Desko’s best coaching work. This squad seemed without direction after it lost its most prolific offensive threats from the year prior in Tom Palasek and Tim Desko. Later, it found that Nicky Galasso (2010’s #1 ranked recruit) and Mike Daniello (brother of Chris, who won championships in ’08 and ’09 with SU) would both miss 2013 with injuries. Tack on a devastating injury to Brandon Mullins, one of the most promising younger defensive players, and it’s easy to see how much adversity this team handled with a shorthanded crew. That’s without mentioning a brutal regular season schedule that included Virginia, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Notre Dame, and Princeton.
This was not the team to make excuses. It manhandled every ranked opponent it faced until Monday. It touted the best record of any team in the nation in one-goal games, showcasing its grit and toughness in defining moments. SU, which was ranked out of the top 10 prior to the season, made it to the national championship game as a top seed, continuing a ridiculous streak of tickets punched to championship weekend. While we can’t be disappointed with the journey, it’s hard not to be down about the loss of a completely winnable game. The only temporary salve for the scars is that these young players will see Duke on the regular when Syracuse debuts in the ACC next season.
Let the mad search for Syracuse’s next true face-off man begin. As Monday proved, this program is quite literally one good draw specialist away from its 12th National Championship.
Posted: Jake Moskowitz