Syracuse and Johns Hopkins renew their rivalry this weekend as the Blue Jays travel up north for a trip to the Carrier Dome. It may not be the biggest rivalry for either team, but for many years, these two teams were NCAA championship lacrosse. During Syracuse’s run of 22 straight final fours, Johns Hopkins was also there for 15 of them. These two teams met for the championship itself five times and in the semi or quarterfinals another six times. Overall, Hopkins owns the series with a record of 27-24-1. The last several years though have been a little different. Since 2000, these teams have met 20 times, with Syracuse having the 12-8 edge in victories. Five of those were in the NCAA tournament, eight were one goal games, and three were in overtime. In more recent history, Syracuse is on a run of winning seven of the last eight meetings. You could safely say these teams have a history together.
Syracuse is coming into this game with five wins, no losses, and are fresh off a comeback win over St. John’s. Driving Syracuse’s offense is still the attack unit of Kevin Rice, Randy Staats and Dylan Donahue. Their overall point production is incredibly even as Rice leads the team with 24 (10G,14A), Donahue with 23 (16G,7A), and Staats with 22 (11G,11A). Their first midfield is not too far behind with 29 combined points, featuring 11 goals from Nicky Galasso. What’s most impressive with Galasso’s goal scoring is he has scored that many while shooting 61.1%, which the second best shooting percentage in the country.
Defensively, Bobby Wardwell has been playing stellar in goal. He is tenth in the country in save percentage, where he is currently at his career best on the season. In front of him, he has a defense that is averaging 7.8 caused turnover per game and clearing at nearly 90%. As a team, they are tied for sixth in the country with a 7.4 goals against average. Adding to the fun is the fact that they currently have the top faceoff unit in the country winning 70.6%.
For Hopkins, the season hasn’t gone as they had hoped. Their preseason was sent completely off track as the team was left reeling after the death of teammate. Situations like this affect every team differently, but outsider like myself could never hope to figure out how it is affecting these Blue Jays. What I do know about this Hopkins team is that they have been inconsistent. They have yet to put together two consecutive wins this season. Recently, there were back-to-back losses after losing to North Carolina by two and following that up with an overtime loss to Princeton. Those are both very good teams, but Hopkins is a program where they are expected to beat good teams, not to settle for almost.
Offensively, Ryan Brown paces the team with 26 points, 21 of which are goals. Expect Brown to be the focus or Syracuse’s defense as he put eight goals up against the Orange last year, despite only taking 11 shots. Brothers Wells and Shack Stanwick are next in line with 22 and 17 points respectively. Wells is the setup player of the group, doubling the next highest assist total on the team with 14 (Shack is second with seven). Shack also joins Patrick Fraser as the most precise finishers, both are over shooting at a rate of over 50%. Overall, the offense is respectable with 12.17 goals per game average, good for 15th best in the country.
On defense, the story is a little different as the Blue Jays possess the 28th ranked scoring defense, averaging 9.67 goals against. Goalie Eric Schneider has a save percentage of an even 44%, the third worst in the NCAA among keepers who play at least 60% of their team’s minutes. It definitely is not all Schneider’s fault as the defense is tied for 49th in the NCAA in caused turnovers along with Drexel, Siena, and Robert Morris. This is not the type of defense you expect to see from any team coached by Dave Pietramala. They have talent as two of their defenders were drafted to the MLL, including LSM Mike Pelligrino at tenth overall. The team also sits at 20th overall in faceoff percentage with 55%, so it should be a good matchup there as both teams are used to winning over half of their draws.
On paper, Syracuse should win this game be a fair margin. In reality, this should be a very close game. Johns Hopkins has plenty of talent, even if it hasn’t turned into wins. Syracuse’s defense has the most difficulty with teams that rely on heavy ball movement paired with several strong shooters, which Hopkins can do. The key for Hopkins isn’t to try and keep up with Syracuse, but to slow down the Orange on offense. St. Johns did the effectively for a half, so it can be done. Neither team is going to be looking past this game, so I wouldn’t expect a flat start by either side.
I fully expect this to be a hard-fought and exciting game. If you are not in the area, you can catch it on ESPNU at 2PM EDT. If you are in the area, you should definitely check it out in person at the Carrier Dome. I also recommend catching the RIT vs. Cabrini game afterwards as that will be a great Division III game between two top five teams.