First-round exit continues to haunt Syracuse
It seemed that the stars were aligned for Syracuse to reach the NCAA Tournament final last May and at least play for the program’s third consecutive national crown.
But the Orange didn’t even get out of the first round, falling to Army, 9-8, in double overtime and finishing with a 13-2 record. The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak in the postseason and marked the first time that Syracuse had suffered a tournament setback in the Carrier Dome since 1991.
Time may have healed the wound, but coach John Desko said the loss continues to follow the players and coaches.
“I think players have used that as motivation,” he said Thursday. “We had one of our best regular seasons ever. We lost one game by one goal, and we got into the playoffs against a team that we had already beaten during the year and we lost in overtime. They were very disappointed in that. Nobody ever plays to lose, but we didn’t have that loss. Our first loss was our third game of the year against Virginia down there, and we didn’t have another loss. … So we hadn’t experienced that loss, and I kind of wonder if that loss would have helped us. But we play to win, and Army played a great game against us. We lost in the first round, so for a senior group that had won championships in their freshmen and sophomore years, they know what it tasted like. It was a bitter pill and they want to learn from that and use that as motivation this year.”
Desko said players and coaches talked wistfully about the season at a season-ending barbecue at his house after the loss and shake their heads at what could have been. It was a humbling moment for a proud school that has captured 11 national championships.
“We’ve kind of built this big gorilla here, and the expectations come with it,” Desko said. “But I think along with their education, that’s why a lot of players choose to come to Syracuse. They feel they have a good chance of going after a national championship and so they come with those expectations and they kind of put that on themselves before they’ve even enrolled. So I think it comes with the territory here. I think we’re used to it.”
*Nineteen freshmen populate the Orange’s roster, and three – attackmen Pat Powderly and Billy Ward and midfielder Jake Bratek – are Under Armour All Americans. Ward could get significant playing time this season, but Desko said he anticipates leaning on the team’s veterans to carry the load. “I think we’re relying more on our upperclassmen,” Desko said. “Our senior class has already won two national championships and was in the playoffs last year. So they aren’t strangers to big games.”
*One freshman who was expected to play is Hakeem Lecky. But the talented midfielder will miss the entire season after breaking his wrist in practice on Jan. 19. Prior to the injury, Lecky was thought to be a fixture on the second midfield, joining a trio of sophomores in Ryan Barber, Pete Coleman and Steve Ianzito. “He was a guy that we wanted to get a lot of experience this year, and he had very good quickness and speed,” Desko said of Lecky. “The experience that he was going to get this year as a freshman was going to pay off next year as far as giving us another go-to guy. So he’ll be a redshirt freshman for us next year without any game experience.”