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No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse at No. 9 Syracuse preview

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The Terps will look to secure a win in their first road meeting of the season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse will travel to upstate New York on Sunday, Feb. 20 when it visits No. 9 Syracuse in its first game away from home in 2022.

“It’s always nice to be in Maryland Stadium, but it’s good to get out of College Park a little bit too. Especially going up to the Carrier Dome,” Maryland fifth-year midfielder Anthony DeMaio said.

The Terrapins have looked nearly unstoppable in their first two games, winning by a combined 20 goals. Last week’s 20-8 win over No. 14 Loyola was impressive enough to move the Terps from No. 3 in the USILA Coaches Poll to the top spot, tied with Virginia. Inside Lacrosse’s Media Poll ranked Maryland as the outright No. 1 team.

As two of the three winningest programs of all time, Maryland and Syracuse are two of the bluest of college lacrosse’s blue blood programs.

Syracuse has the most NCAA men’s lacrosse championships of any school (10), and both programs have qualified for 27 Final Fours. At least one of the two schools has appeared in over 60% of championship games since lacrosse was officially recognized as an NCAA sport in 1971. The schools have played 17 times overall, the last being a 13-7 Maryland win in the quarterfinals of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Maryland leads the all-time series 11-6 and has won 4 of the last 5 matchups.

Sunday’s game, set to start at noon, can be streamed on ACC Network Extra.

No. 9 Syracuse Orange (1-0)

2021 Record: 7-6 (2-4 ACC)

Head coach Gary Gait is in his first year as head coach of the Syracuse men’s lacrosse program after taking over for legendary coach John Desko, who won five national championships. Gait was the head coach of Syracuse’s women’s lacrosse program for 14 years prior to taking the job with the men’s team. Gait has spent his fair share of time in College Park, winning seven national championships as an assistant with Maryland’s women’s lacrosse program to go with his three NCAA championships won as a player at Syracuse.

Dave Pietramala took the job as Syracuse’s defensive coordinator this offseason, a name many Maryland fans will recognize from his over 200 wins and two national championships as the head coach at Johns Hopkins.

“Coach [Pietramala] is an amazing, brilliant mind when it comes to defense,” Maryland fifth-year midfielder Bubba Fairman said. “Fortunately, I probably will be on the other side of the ball so I won’t have to see him too much.”

The Orange started the Gait era with a bang, scoring 28 goals in their season-opening win against Holy Cross. Syracuse entered that game ranked No. 12 after a 2021 season that featured many ups and downs. Syracuse finished last season with an overall record of 7-6, all of its losses coming against ranked teams. It did, however, beat national champion Virginia twice.

Players to watch

Tucker Dordevic, junior midfielder, No. 23. Dordevic started his 2022 campaign with an impressive offensive showcase, scoring five goals and adding an assist against Holy Cross. This comes as no surprise, as Dordevic led Syracuse midfielders in scoring in 2021 with a 23 goal, eight assist season. He earned Third Team All-American honors from Inside Lacrosse and USILA. Dordevic can play a traditional midfield position, but Gait has used him in an attacking role that makes his offensive game more dynamic. He was included on the 2022 Tewaaraton Award Watch List.

Brendan Curry, senior midfielder, No. 16. A native of Lutherville, Maryland, Brendan Curry has established himself as one of the nation’s best midfielders. He is a three-time All-American and has started 43 straight games for the Orange, securing a place on the 2022 Tewaaraton Award Watch List. He had four goals and two assists in the team’s first game. Curry has over 100 career points and is a major catalyst in Syracuse’s offense. If he is allowed to dictate the game as he wishes, the Orange are almost impossible to defend.

Brett Kennedy, senior long stick midfielder, No. 11. A week removed from facing Loyola’s Ryan McNulty, the Terps have to deal with another one of the nation’s top long stick midfielders in Brett Kennedy.

“I think that having that experience against [McNulty] definitely helped,” DeMaio said of Maryland’s preparation for Kennedy’s ability to affect the flow of the game.

Kennedy is a three-time All-American and three-time All-ACC selection. He has alternated between defense and midfield during his career, proving his versatility. Kennedy ranks ninth all-time at Syracuse in caused turnovers and was a preseason Inside Lacrosse All-American. He should be an incredibly difficult matchup for the Terps.

Strength

Goal-scoring ability. It was no secret that Syracuse had a high-powered offense heading into this season, and any remaining doubters were silenced after the Orange netted 28 goals in their season opener, their most in almost 30 years. With five-point performances from four separate players and thirteen different goal scorers, Maryland can expect a tremendously difficult defensive challenge.

“You watch that film from [the Holy Cross game] and it doesn’t take long to realize that this is a really dynamic and prolific offense,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said.

While the Orange won’t be able to shoot an astronomical 57.1% against the Terps as they did against Holy Cross, fans can still expect some offensive fireworks on Sunday.

Weakness

Goaltending experience. With the loss of All-American goalie Drake Porter, Syracuse turned to the transfer portal and picked up sophomore Bobby Gavin from Virginia. Gavin had eight appearances for the Cavaliers in 2021 and two starts but has yet to put together a full season at the college level. He, along with sophomore Harrison Thompson, was relatively untested in the Orange’s first game against Holy Cross. Sunday’s game will mark the tandem’s first real test between the pipes at Syracuse.

Three things to watch

1. How will the Terps perform away from home? This Maryland team has yet to play a game away from the comforts of College Park, and it can expect to face a lively scene in the Carrier Dome Sunday. Not only is the No. 1 ranked team in the country coming to town, but the Orange are also retiring Gait’s jersey before the game and inducting former coach Roy Simmons Jr. into their ring of honor at halftime. Syracuse is consistently one of the most difficult places to play in all of college lacrosse and the indoor setting can create a uniquely loud environment.

“Playing in the Carrier Dome is tricky,” Tillman said. “It’s an experience that will challenge [our] players, and I think that during the season whenever you can be challenged and push your guys it does benefit you down the road.”

A top-10 opponent paired with a hostile crowd means that the Terps are going to have to play their best game yet to leave with a win.

2. The face-off battle. Maryland junior face-off specialist Luke Wierman had a career day against Loyola, winning 19-of-25 face-offs and scoring two goals. His performance earned him Big Ten Specialist of the Week honors. Wierman, along with teammate Gavin Tygh, will have to lock in against one of the nation’s best face-off specialists in Syracuse’s Jakob Phaup. Phaup won 15-of-18 face-offs against Holy Cross and was an Inside Lacrosse All-American in 2020. Tillman gave Wierman a lot of credit for the team’s performance against Loyola, noting after the game that extra possessions from face-off wins can be crucial against high-level opposition.

3. Logan Wisnauskas returns to Syracuse. As the top scorer on Maryland’s offense, fifth-year attacker Logan Wisnauskas will return to play his first game in the Carrier Dome since redshirting at Syracuse during the 2017 season. While Wisnauskas never played a game for the Orange and is a Maryland native, he should still have some extra motivation for Sunday’s affair. Wisnauskas continues to put up gaudy numbers for the Terps, scoring eight goals and dishing out six assists through the team’s first two games. If Maryland gets into a shootout with Syracuse, Wisnauskas will need to step up to the challenge.