Syracuse’s senior class is seeking to avoid becoming the first group since 1999 to graduate without capturing a national championship. That determination could be best embodied by senior midfielder JoJo Marasco.
The Tewaaraton Award finalist has recorded four goals and six assists in three NCAA tournament games, and his 10 points leads the Orange in the postseason. Marasco, who pumped in a game-high five points on two goals and three assists in top-seeded Syracuse’s 9-8 decision over fourth-seeded Denver in a NCAA tournament semifinal at Lincoln Financial Field here Saturday evening, said he is eager to help the program collect its NCAA-leading 11th national championship with a win against seventh-seeded Duke on Monday.
“It’s been a goal since I first picked up a lacrosse stick,” he said. “I always wanted to come to Syracuse, and I can’t say enough about this team with coming back and winning so many close games. It’s just a great feeling right now, and right now, we’re going with it.”
Last season, Marasco was expected to lead the Orange, but he managed just 12 goals and 19 assists to rank fourth on the team in scoring.
“This year, it’s just all come together for him,” coach John Desko said of Marasco, who passed Paul Gait for the most assists by a midfielder with 41 so far. “He’s a feeder, scored a big goal at the end of the game when we were man up. I think the other players on the team know that when JoJo has the ball in his stick, they work extra hard to get open because if they do, they know he’s going to find them and give them the ball. Like we’ve seen in these last few games, it’s been great to have him on the field with all of the experience that he has because he makes such big plays.”
Marasco was especially pivotal in Syracuse’s comeback against the Pioneers, having a hand in three of the team’s five fourth-quarter goals, including finding senior midfielder Luke Cometti for a goal that knotted the score at 8-8 with 58.8 seconds left in regulation.
Marasco sounded surprised that Denver did not mind shadowing him with short-stick defensive midfielders.
“They were switching on all of their picks and anytime I was even dodging,” he said. “I got a lot of short sticks, and I guess they trusted their short sticks to cover me. They weren’t really sliding, and I was able to get a good enough of a move to make them show, and then guys all year – you’ve got Luke Cometti and [junior attackman] Derek Maltz and [redshirt freshman attackman] Dylan Donahue – getting open so much. I was just able to see these guys all game. I really tried to get as unselfish as I can, and these guys are great shooters and I really trust them.”
*Junior goalkeeper Dominic Lamolinara was outplayed by Pioneers sophomore Ryan LaPlante in the first half as LaPlante made a season-high 13 saves to Lamolinara’s two. But the Arnold native and St. Mary’s graduate found his rhythm in the second frame, outdueling junior Jamie Faus by making six stops to Faus’ four. “The second half, I settled down and talked to my teammates at halftime and they got my confidence back up,” said Lamolinara, who transferred from Maryland after the 2011 season. “… I knew the offense was going to make plays. So I just needed to limit the defensive opportunities, and that’s what happened, and it worked out.” Desko pointed out that Lamolinara has been backstopping the team throughout the postseason. “I think in the second half, you saw him play pretty well,” Desko said. “We weren’t giving him a lot of help in the second half, and their goalie was saving everything. So we put the pressure on the defense in the second half, and I think he really came alive and saw the ball really well.”
*Pioneers sophomore attackman Wesley Berg had entered Saturday’s semifinal with 12 goals in the team’s first two NCAA tournament games and was just five tallies shy of the postseason record of 17 goals posted by Loyola’s Eric Lusby last season. But Berg did not register a point or even take a shot as he was blanked by sophomore defenseman Sean Young, a Towson transfer who did the same thing to senior attackman Kirby Zdrill in the team’s 7-6 win against Yale in last Saturday’s quarterfinal. Desko was effusive in his praise of Young’s performance. “I think he’s taken a lot of pride into his individual matchup when he’s playing a player who is mostly an off-ball player,” Desko said. “So he really takes a lot of pride, and he rises to the occasion, and I think the rest of the defense knows his role and can makes slides and doubles from different positions knowing that he has a certain responsibility on the field. He’s done a great job with it all year long.”
*Steve Ianzito appeared to badly injure his left ankle with 13:46 left in the second quarter of that victory over Yale, but the redshirt senior short-stick defensive midfielder was back Saturday, playing the whole game against Denver. Ianzito’s return inspired the Orange. “It was great,” Desko said. “He’s been one of our strengths. If you follow lacrosse, most teams are going to attack the short sticks on the defensive end of the field, and he’s been tested all year. … Even yesterday, he missed half of practice, and for him to be able to go the whole way was great for our defense.”