A year ago, Syracuse was ranked outside of the top 10 in many preseason polls and closer to the mid-teens than No. 10. This winter, the program is getting the respect that an 11-time NCAA champion deserves.
The Orange are ranked either No. 1 or 2 in many preseason polls, and that attention has not escaped the notice of coach John Desko.
“It’s such a difference for us,” he said. “There weren’t any expectations last year. I don’t know where we were picked – 14, 15, 16 or 17 in the country – into the season. So I think for a lot of people at the end of the year, for us to make it to the championship game was a great success. This year, because we did and especially with a known team, I think the expectations are higher going into it. So it’s such a complete reverse role or mindset. It’s just much different than it was for us a year ago, but the guys seem to be handling it really well. I’m not sure they read about our team or where we’re supposed to be. I’m not sure we’ve changed that much mentally. Hopefully, this plays into our confidence.”
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Syracuse graduated several key players – most notably midfielder JoJo Marasco and defenseman Brian Megill – from last year’s squad that lost, 16-10, to Duke in the championship final of the NCAA tournament, but those losses might be mitigated by the addition and return of several players.
Junior attackman Nicky Galasso (foot) and sophomore defenseman Brandon Mullins (right knee) have returned after their respective injuries sidelined them last season. And the team welcomed a pair of transfers in junior attackman Randy Staats (73 goals and 83 assists at Onondaga Community College in 2013) and junior faceoff specialist Mike Iacono (113 ground balls and 77.8 percent on 56-of-72 at Nassau Community College in 2013) who are expected to contribute immediately.
But Desko pointed out that how the new pieces blend with the parts from last year’s team will determine the strength of this spring’s group.
“We have to remind ourselves that I think our strength last year and this year is with our team,” he said. “We’re going to beat people as an offensive unit, not just one or two players. Same thing defensively. We have to play well as a group and not rely on one or two players to get the job done. So to add a little depth with these guys coming in is a good thing, but you want to keep the chemistry.”
The Orange begin their campaign when Siena visits the Carrier Dome on Monday night, and Desko conceded that the players and coaches are eager to make amends for the loss to the Blue Devils in the title game.
“When you’ve lost your last game, you can’t wait to get back out there,” he said. “If you win your last game, you can always wait for the start and be the champ as long as you can. But when you lose, you want to get right back to the drawing board and evaluate what you did wrong and right and what your weaknesses are and try to improve on them.”