Delaware’s 19-6 rout of Detroit Mercy on Saturday kicked off the college lacrosse campaign, and ESPN analyst and former Syracuse midfielder Paul Carcaterra participated in a few conference calls Tuesday to prepare for the coming season. Carcaterra found some time in his packed scheduled to discuss interesting storylines.
Were you surprised by the decision by Syracuse to join Pittsburgh in moving from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014?
I wasn’t because I was able to have some information financially as to why it made sense for Syracuse as an athletic department to make that move. It made all the sense in the world in terms of the long-term picture, to be involved in a conference like the Atlantic Coast Conference. It would just benefit not only the lacrosse program but all of their athletics as a whole. With the unrest in other conferences and realignment, I think it was important for Syracuse to make a long-term commitment to a conference that they knew would be around for a while.
Barring a collapse by one of the teams in the ACC, would that mean that five spots in the 16-team tournament would be filled by schools from that conference?
Yes and no. They’re all going to be beating each other up. There’s going to be years when one of those teams doesn’t make the playoffs. I don’t think it’s a lock every year where all five teams make the tournament. One of the things I really don’t want to see is an ACC tournament with five teams. I don’t think an ACC conference of five teams should have a tournament of four. It was natural to let all four teams play in an ACC tournament, but when you bring in a fifth team and have to leave one out, I don’t know.
How will Syracuse’s move impact the ACC and the Big East?
I think it makes the ACC a serious destination of any high school lacrosse player who wants to play in the best lacrosse conference in the country. You’re playing with and against the best week in and week out. It will actually help out Syracuse even more from a recruiting standpoint because they predominantly recruited in New York and upstate. Now I think Syracuse becomes relevant in the southern states. If you see Syracuse in the ACC and you’re a Southerner, there’s more of an interest to play in that conference. The flip side is there will be a tremendous talent in upstate New York and those players aren’t going to be complete locks to go to Syracuse. I think it’s two-fold. As for the Big East, I think the wild card long term is Villanova. I think Villanova has the potential to become a serious lacrosse school, and they could lessen the departure of Syracuse and continue to have the Big East be a factor. I think Notre Dame is a program that’s going to stay and be a top team in lacrosse for many years. The x-factor is Georgetown needs to rebound and become relevant on the national scene. But I wouldn’t be too concerned if I was the Big East.
Who is the best team – on paper – in the country?
I think you have to go with Virginia. They have the best 1-2 punch in college lacrosse in [senior attackmen] Steele Stanwick and Chris Bocklet. They complement each other so well. Many of those key guys on defense are back. I think [senior] Rob Fortunato is a good goaltender, and I think he’s going to stand up and play solid lacrosse. And their midfield is really deep. I think a kid who could have a breakout season and could be one of the top midfielders in the country is [sophomore] Rob Emery, and he’s going to do that by playing next to [senior] Colin Briggs. It’s going to be very difficult to cover Briggs and Emery. And then you sprinkle in guys like [junior midfielder] Matt White and [sophomore midfielder Mark] Cockerton. You have a really formidable midfield, you have the best 1-2 punch in college lacrosse on the attack, and you have a defense that grew up and you can depend on.
Is there a team flying under the radar?
Three teams that people need to watch out for that I think are better than their preseason rankings indicate are Syracuse, Maryland and Notre Dame. I think people look at Syracuse’s and Maryland’s graduations and think that they’re done. There’s a lot of young talent at Syracuse and Maryland. I think Syracuse is very athletic in the midfield. They have some players there that people aren’t too aware of and that can put up big numbers. Guys like [redshirt freshman] Hakeem Lecky and [senior] Bobby Eilers. I think [junior midfielder] JoJo Marasco is poised to have a breakout year. Their attack is back for the most part, and [sophomore] Derek Maltz is filling in for Stephen Keogh. I wouldn’t be surprised if Derek Maltz scores 40 goals this year. Defensively, with [defensive coordinator] Lelan Rogers, they’ve been strong for the last five years. I think the key for Syracuse is finding a transition game with [goalkeeper] John Galloway graduating. They don’t only lose a first-team All-American goaltender, but they also lose a guy that could start the transition. So I think that’s a key factor for Syracuse. For Maryland, they might have the deepest midfield in college lacrosse. You throw in guys like [junior transfer] Mike Chanenchuk who was a second-team All-American at Princeton as a freshman. You have [senior] Drew Snider, [senior] Joe Cummings, who can go back and forth, and the list goes on and on. I think that midfield will be a nightmare to match up with. Their key thing will be no so much replacing what they lost on attack because I think [junior] Owen Blye can stand up and replace Ryan Young, but I think it’s the defense. They have to replace their three starters on defense. The saving grace is that [sophomore] Niko Amato is a top-three or -four goalie in the country. And then Notre Dame is a program built on system. They play unbelievable team defense. They do a lot of things offensively that you have to scheme [for], and they put their players in position through off-ball movement to cause fits for the opposition. So I think Notre Dame with a great goaltender and solid defense will be in the mix. If you look at their preseason rankings, they might be [Nos.] 7, 8 and 9. At the end of the year, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were [Nos.] 4, 5 and 6, or even higher.
Is there a team that the media is overestimating?
I think a team that has a ton back and is considered in the mix for a national championship is Johns Hopkins, but I think Johns Hopkins’ success will ultimately come down to whether they can score from the midfield outside of [junior] John Ranagan. I think you know what you’re going to get from the attack and you know what you’re going to get from the defense and the goaltending. I think Johns Hopkins’ midfield right now – outside of John Ranagan – needs to emerge as a top-flight unit for them to contend for a national championship. I don’t know if we’re overevaluating Johns Hopkins right now at No. 2 or 3, depending on the poll. But I think if there’s a unit out there that is going to dictate its team’s success, it’s the Johns Hopkins midfield.
Is there a team that has the potential to emerge from nowhere and reach the Final Four, as Denver did last year?
If you’re looking outside of the top five or six teams, don’t be surprised if Notre Dame makes another run at the Final Four. I wouldn’t put them at the level of a dark horse as Denver was a year ago because Notre Dame’s a well-established team. But for a preseason No. 9 or 10, that’s way too low for them. I think they’ve done too much over the last three years. I know they graduated [midfielders] Zach Brenneman and David Earl, but they have a system in South Bend that really promotes team-driven schemes and systems. They’re just so strong there that I just don’t think they’re a preseason [No.] 9. I think another team that is way back in the rankings there is Harvard. I think they have a lot of talent up at Harvard. Harvard has a really good defense, four scorers at attack. Jeff Cohen is a versatile scorer, a senior. They have a couple other contributors at the attack position, and I just think they’re poised. They’ve lost a lot of one-goal games over the last few years, and they have a great senior group. They have a top-flight midfielder in [senior] Kevin Vaughan. They’re well-balanced at each position, and I think this might be the year that Harvard can sneak up on some teams.
Who are your leading candidates to take home the Tewaaraton Award in June?
You have the obvious with [Cornell junior attackman] Rob Pannell and Steele Stanwick. Those are no-brainers. I think the most talented lacrosse player in terms of skill set is Denver’s Mark Matthews. He’s just so smooth, and his stick skills and his offensive awareness are above and beyond everyone else. He’s the total package. He can score. He’s a good, in-tight dodger. He’s really developed his feeding game. I think he’s phenomenal. Another good player that I’m really high on and that a lot of people don’t have him in the top echelon for Tewaaraton finalists is Peter Baum, a junior who plays attack and midfield for Colgate. He’s phenomenal. If Peter Baum was on a top-five team in the country, he’d be on everybody’s short list for the Tewaaraton.