Syracuse quickly regains familiar turf Freshmen succeed for No. 1 Orangemen

April 07, 1992|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

The crowd inside the Carrier Dome was silent. Only minutes before, North Carolina had ended Syracuse's three-year reign as national champions with a 19-13 victory in the 1991 Division I semifinals. It was only the second loss at home for the Orangemen since 1987.

At a news conference, most of the questions directed at Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr. centered on the end of the Orangemen dynasty. After about 15 minutes, Simmons stared out at the audience and said: "Don't lose heart. We'll be back."

Some critics dismissed the statement as, "Oh, there goes Roy again," referring to Simmons' style.

But heading into the last month of the 1992 regular season, Syracuse is 5-1, still the game's top attraction and back in its familiar spot in the national rankings.

No. 1.

"I just wanted people to know that we would be all right," said Simmons, a Hall of Famer and the only Division I lacrosse coach to win four NCAA titles. "Teams were dropping us from their schedule when we had the Gaits [Paul and Gary, twin brothers from Canada who became All-America midfielders], and after last year some of the coaches were saying they would pick us up in 1992. They said we were going to fall apart and that the run was over."

Actually, it could be some time before Syracuse stops gaining from the benefits of the Gait brothers, who left Syracuse in 1990 with three national championships. The Gaits, with their behind-the-back passes and shots, have become household names in lacrosse circles.

When Roy Simmons calls, people listen.

Often, the prospects are calling Simmons.

The Orangemen, who recruit heavily in areas like British Columbia, downstate New York and New England, signed two of the top freshmen in the country last year in midfielder Roy Colsey and defenseman Ric Beardsley.

Both have had immediate impact, with Colsey scoring 12 goals and Beardsley five. Beardsley has scored a couple of backhand goals with a long stick.

"Because I was here at the same time as the Gaits, the coaches came to me," said senior defenseman John Winship. "Now, some of them [the prospects] approach the coaches."

Simmons, one of the game's best salesmen, said: "I can walk into a house now and don't have to say who I am. All I have to say is where I'm from and they say, 'Oh, Syracuse, Paul and Gary Gait.' They did so much for the game of lacrosse, especially here. It's been tough getting along without them on the field, though. The only thing they left behind there was Marechek."

That's Marechek, as in Tom, the great finishing attackman and three-time All-American. No one calls him by his first name anymore. It's Marechek. Like Magic, Michael and Bo.

He's a show.

In 3 1/2 years, Marechek, a fellow Canadian recruited by the Gaits, has 223 points. His 20 points this season (on 20 goals) are down in comparison to previous seasons because Marechek is being double-teamed, but he is still a force.

"He's even more dangerous than the Gaits because of his position near the goal," said Scott Giardina, Johns Hopkins' goalie. "He's got quick hands and amazing stickwork. He's outstanding on fakes. When we played them earlier this year, I had to work an extra 20 minutes to a half an hour [with assistant coach Ron Klausner imitating Marechek's fakes] just to prepare for him."

Marechek doesn't mind his new role. He is content to occupy an extra defender, leaving lanes open for fellow and speedy attackmen Jamie Archer (8 goals, 10 assists) and Matt Riter (22, 4).

"I have pressure, especially with the chance of breaking several scoring records, but I've tried to put all that in the back of my head," said Marechek. "Matt and Jamie have picked up the scoring pace, and the main goal for us is to win a national championship."

Marechek may be the team's headliner, but the group that sets this team apart is its midfield, which combines speed and depth.

How deep?

Two weeks ago, the Orangemen were without their starting midfield, and they crushed Loyola, 13-4. They were like Pac-men, gobbling up ground balls and turning unsettled situations into goals.

"When you beat a team like Loyola that badly without your starting midfield, it causes one to sit up and take notice," said Johns Hopkins coach Tony Seaman. "Their team speed is amazing. They are the fastest in lacrosse. There's no way you want to get in a shooting match with those guys."

The speedsters include Tom Gilmartin (10, 2), Colsey, Dom Fin (9, 3), John Barr (8, 2), Charlie Lockwood (6, 4), Bob Feisee (0, 1) and Andy Puccia (2, 1).

The best of the bunch, Rickey Cramer, is out for the season after suffering a knee injury in the second game.

"From the hips down, I know we're the best lacrosse team in the country," said Simmons, who has a 212-79 career record.

Syracuse's defense was supposed to be suspect, but that opinion changed after the Orangemen held Loyola attackmen Kevin Beach and Jim Blanding to a combined one goal and one assist. Winship has been outstanding, and Brian Tully and Beardsley have been steady and improving every game. First-year starter Chris Surran has 105 saves and a .597 save percentage.

"We were No. 1 when I first got here and after a while, we just expected to be No. 1," said Winship. "It really wasn't that special. Then last year we lost and we had the whole summer to think about it. Actually, it was like a week between games because that's how badly we wanted to play again. Now we're No. 1, and it's special again. It's real special."

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