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One game has always stood out in my mind as a lacrosse spectator. It wasn’t the first college lacrosse game I attended, but it changed the way I saw the sport as a player and a fan.
I was 11 years old, sitting directly behind the goal at Homewood Field when the Syracuse Orangemen came to Baltimore to take on Johns Hopkins. I had seen Syracuse play on ESPN2 whenever they were in the Final Four on Memorial Day weekend, but this was my first taste of live upstate New York lacrosse. As the game began, Casey Powell, donning the infamous “22″ was attacking on my end of the field. By 1998 Casey was a senior, already a two-time 1st team All-American, and the 1997 DI Player Of The Year.
To be honest, I couldn’t take my eyes off both Casey and his younger brother Ryan, who was a sophomore at the time (wearing #1). I heard so much about these guys being the “Next Gait Brothers”, I was entranced by the way they carried themselves, from their knee-high socks, to the confidence they exuded every time they had the ball in their sticks.
Hopkins was impressive in their own right, boasting players like goalie Brian Carcaterra, as well as attackmen Dylan Schlott and Dan Denihan. The one Hopkins player who rivaled the confidence and style of the Powell brothers was midfielder A.J. Haugen, who went on to earn three 1st team All-American nods, beginning in 1998 as a sophomore. Syracuse would go on to win the game 14-13, but I’m sure that I wasn’t the only youth player at Homewood Field that afternoon who emulated the moves of Powell and Haugen in my backyard the next day.
This Saturday at 4 p.m. the Orange will visit Homewood once again, facing the Blue Jays for the 5oth time in the school’s history. Hopkins leads the all-time series 26-22-1, but they’ve lost the last four meetings with their powerhouse rivals. As is often the case both teams are ranked in the top 10, JHU currently at #2 and Syracuse at #6.
Syracuse is still in the process of finding its new identity after the departure of seven key starters from the 2011 squad. Four year starter in goal John Galloway, two stud defenders John Lade and Joel White, are now in the MLL. Last year’s leading scorer Stephen Keogh and the entire first midfield of Jeremy Thompson, Josh Amidon and Jovan Miller are all playing professional ball as well.
The Orange (3-1) still possess a “22″ in junior JoJo Marasco(4g, 5a) who was handed the illustrious jersey as a freshman talent from Yorktown Heights in upstate New York. He did tie Keogh last year for most total points for the Orange, but has yet to show that he can dominate a defense when called upon as the go-to guy this season. The offense seems to rely heavily on two attackmen, senior Tim Desko(8g, 2a) who is the son of head coach John Desko and sophomore Derek Maltz.
Desko who wears #21 is not a flashy dodger like the Powell brothers or Marasco, instead he uses his experience and stick skills gathered from years on the sidelines around some of the game’s greatest players. Desko is one of the best finishers in all of collegiate lacrosse, he is deadly on extra man opportunities and fast breaks. Maltz is much like Desko in his shooting prowess; the two rarely fail to finish in a one-on-one situation or a shot inside 10 yards. Maltz, who wears #7 is more of an athlete at 6’2 190 lbs. He combines fabulous stick work with 40% shooting on the year to give ‘Cuse another weapon at its dispense. The sophomore showed that he is ready to help carry the Orange offense by putting up 3 goals and 2 assists in their match against top ranked Virginia on March 4.
Other players to watch for Syracuse: senior attackman Tommy Palasek(1g, 6a) is the primary feeder. Senior midfielders Kevin Drew(2g) and Bobby Eilers(3g) are both big, athletic midfielders who need to help pick up the scoring slack to take pressure off of the attack. Also keep an eye on redshirt freshman midfielder Hakeem Lecky(2g), who adds speed and quickness from up top and a nice shot on the run.
The second ranked Blue Jays come into the contest 6-0, led by its junior class which has grown together into one of the most well rounded teams in the country. As I’ve mentioned before, the foundation of Hopkins’ success is it’s defense, they have not allowed more than eight goals in any one contest this year. The starting defense of juniors Chris Lightner and Tucker Durkin and senior Gavin Chrisafulli, has been very tough to crack through the first six games. With each defender measuring in over 6’2 and each 200 lbs plus, Hopkins just might have the most physically imposing defensive unit in Division I.
The Hopkins attack is lead by a duo of Canadians in junior Zach Palmer and sophomore Brandon Benn. Palmer(10g, 15a) has become the quarterback of the offense since the Jays lost Chris Boland to injury in the season opener. Benn(11g, 3a) has made his presence known since the absence of Boland, with an impeccable display of shooting(47% on the season). The bruising juniors John Greeley(4g, 3a) and John Ranagan(5g, 4a) anchor the midfield unit, while Lee Coppersmith, Rob Guida and Mark Goodrich have combined for 19 goals to give the second line excellent depth.
Other players to watch for Hopkins: junior attackman John Kaestner has received additional playing time as freshman Wells Stanwick(Boy’s Latin) has missed time due to injury. Kaestner has filled in adequately over the past three games with 4 goals, 2 assists. Yet another junior, face-off man Mike Poppleton is winning 64% of his draws this season. And sophomore long-stick midfielder Jack Reilly has been impressive so far this year, handling the opposition’s top offensive midfielders and leading the team with 19 ground balls.
After a convincing win last Saturday against UMBC at M&T Bank Stadium, the Blue Jays are poised to continue their winning ways. Going into Saturday nights showdown, Hopkins is certainly favored at home but the talent of Syracuse can never be underestimated. Coach Dave Pietramala will be the first to remind his Jays of the four game losing streak to the Orange.
If you’re located in Baltimore make it a point to get down to Hopkins Saturday afternoon, this will be one of the best lacrosse games in town this spring. Two programs with decades of winning tradition, championship plaques and All-Americans, it doesn’t get much better than this one.
If you can’t make it to Homewood Field, the game will be televised on ESPNU, 4 p.m. Saturday.
As always, enjoy. I know I will.