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How Syracuse Fared in its First ACC Year, from Football through Field Hockey

 

via rantsports.com

Following Syracuse’s loss to Maryland in the NCAA  women’s lacrosse championship game, most of the Orange athletes are entering the offseason. Syracuse’s first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference has come to a close. But just how successful were a lot of the teams this year? Let’s take a look across all Orange sports at how Syracuse fared in its ACC debut.   

Football

If postseason wins are what define a successful season (and that’s always what’s echoed when the Big Dance comes around in March, at least), then Syracuse football was a pretty successful team this year. It’s the only team to find success—however different the postseason for football is, comparatively—defeating Minnesota 21-17 in the Texas Bowl Dec. 27. But despite closing a 7-6 season with a two-game winning streak and seeing four former players join NFL teams this year, recruiting still remains a concern for the team, as quality over quantity becomes a concern.

All eyes will be on quarterback Terrel Hunt and the offense as the Orange moves through the preseason. That’s valid: the Orange defense had to step in several times this season when the offense fumbled. A lack of productive receivers is cause for concern, especially as this year’s roster has only hopefuls, and no surefire producers.

As ACC competition grows more intense across all sports, you can bet that home matchups against Louisville and Florida State—back-to-back, by the way—and that away game in Death Valley at Clemson will be brutal tests for the Orange. Don’t sleep on Wake Forest and NC State, or the matchup with Notre Dame, either.

The takeaway: Scott Shafer has the right mindset, and at least the indefatigable energy, to keep rebuilding the program. We’ll see if #hardnosed catches on.  It’s a matter of tireless recruiting and tapping into a population always counting down for when the turf in the Dome becomes the hard court.

 

Basketball

Women’s Basketball:

The Orange got its first-ever NCAA tournament win over Chattanooga. That’s also when star player Brittney Sykes went down with a knee injury. They lost the following week versus no. 3 Kentucky, finishing 23-10 in the Orange’s sixth appearance in the postseason. Success next year largely depends on Sykes’ rehabilitation, but the Orange should fare well enough with Briana Day and Brianna Butler.

The takeaway: A solid year, but it has a long way to go before opponents fear the ladies in Orange.

Men’s Basketball:

25-0. Jerami Grant’s put-back dunk. 25-0. Tyler Ennis and that buzzer-beater. 25-0. Trevor Cooney ices those threes. 25-0.

And then came a slow walk instead of a sprint into the postseason, and a tough loss to Dayton that ended the memories of the overtime win against Duke, of Ennis’s clutch, intelligent play, and the hope that CJ Fair would go out in his senior season with a ring on his finger.

It finished the regular season 28-4, with a dominating 14-4 record in a competitive ACC. Unfortunately, the team was ranked higher than its talent (though let’s savor that #1 national ranking), and, similar to men’s lacrosse, kept its wins very, very close—Cardiac ‘Cuse indeed. The team was often, if esoterically, criticized at times for both “playing to its competition” and “not playing a full two halves.”

The Orange will enter next season with the same uncertainty it had entering this past season—and hey, it wasn’t totally awful. Losing Fair, Grant and Ennis stings, but jack-of-all-trades Michael Gbinije and senior leader Rakeem Christmas return, as does the sometimes-hot, sometimes-cold Cooney. Unproven talents BJ Johnson, Tyler Roberson and Ron Patterson will get a chance to showcase, as Syracuse kept it a little too close in most games this year for any of them to see significant—if any—minutes. DaJuan Coleman returns from injury and Chinonso Obokoh can hit the court.  Oh, and then there are the new guys: Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough.

The takeaway: Hey, Duke lost first.  

Lacrosse

Women’s Lacrosse:

The bandwagon was fun, wasn’t it? These women are a truly talented group, led by highly effective attackers and Tewaaraton Trophy finalists senior Alyssa Murray and sophomore Kayla Treanor. It’s not just them, though; the team is absolutely loaded.  Coached by former Syracuse star and eternal lacrosse god Gary Gait, the women sought their first-ever NCAA title in both lacrosse and for a Syracuse women’s sport. It fell for a third time this season to the Maryland Terrapins in the final, 15-12.

The takeaway: The team loses some incredible senior talent, but there’s a lot less parity in NCAA women’s lacrosse. Best new: Treanor still has two years left.

Men’s Lacrosse:

The perennial lax powerhouse (and yes, despite the outcries, it is perennial—if a “five-year title draught” is cause for gray hair, well, that’s some problem to have) had a heartbreaking end to its heart-pounding season. Following a rough 0-3 debut in the ACC, men’s lacrosse really lived up to that #HHH, and were incredibly clutch down the stretch. Faced with the toughest schedule in the country, men’s lax delivered in April and May, but ultimately doomed themselves by sleeping on Bryant University—a play-in for the NCAA tournament—which completely outcoached the Orange at the Dome in the first round. The men went out on the wrong side of notorious upsets this year.

The team returns a loaded roster that includes Tewaaraton finalist snub Kevin Rice and highlight-specialist Randy Staats. There’re also the explosive Hakeem Lecky (who’ll have to learn to finish), attack Dylan Donahue, midfielder Nicky Galasso and defender Brandon Mullins. And let’s not forget heralded freshman Jordan Evans, wearing #22, or Dylan Maltz, kid brother to departed senior Derek Maltz. 

Development at the faceoff X (this especially, with two candidates returning and two recruits coming in) and at goalkeeper will be hot topics throughout the offseason. Bobby Wardwell returns after statistically leading in saves (51.3 percent) between him and departed senior Dominic Lamolinara (48.6 percent). The job’s likely his, but despite being the “closer” goalie, his season didn’t end so well—not a great cloud to have hanging over your head into the offseason.

The takeaway: Syracuse is still talented. But the sport is growing, and parity is inevitable—by the way, all six ACC lacrosse teams made the postseason. So get ready for some serious competition. The days of blink-and-the-men-are-in-the-Final-Four may not be certain anymore, but increased competition is only good for lacrosse—and for anyone who loves sports.

 

The Rest

Cross Country: The men brought home the ACC championship title and head coach Chris Fox was named ACC Coach of the Year. Talk about sprinting to the finish line. The men finished 10th in the NCAA finals—its highest place since 1957, while the women made their fifth-ever appearance, finishing 22nd overall.

Field Hockey: These ladies are beasts, and no one knows it. After dominating the regular season, the women entered the NCAA tournament ranked second overall—but were upset by no. 20 Michigan State in the first round.

Ice Hockey: The ladies had the most successful season in program history (20-14-3), but lost just before the title game in the College Hockey America tournament.

Rowing: The women’s team placed third in the ACC tournament, netting two silver medals and one bronze. The men have been a little less successful this year. Expect middling performances in the last few regattas.

Soccer: The men finished with an okay 10-7-1 overall and a not-so-okay 3-7-1 conference record, and were eliminated from the postseason with their last loss of the season. Individual players and some successful recruiting should keep the Orange in contention next season. The women fared, and fare, similarly, missing the postseason but securing some very talented recruits.

Softball: The ladies fell in the ACC championship quarterfinals after a productive regular season.

Tennis: The women made it to the ACC championship but lost—pretty brutally, too—to Florida State.

Track and Field: Still going strong. The NCAA East preliminaries are up next, and the Orange are sending 18 athletes across 12 events. 

The takeaway: We can’t complain, Syracuse. It couldn’t been really awful. Like, Clemson vs. Syracuse football levels of awful. But we saw some historic play, some new rivalries shape up, some incredible talent showcased, and some surprises along the way. The Orange should look back on its debut year and be proud. Special kudos to cross country—we’ve got our winner. As for the rest, we anxiously await the start of the new academic year.

Posted by: Jillian Thaw

 

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