Twin persistence

Syracuse: Glenelg High alums Chris and Jeff Cordisco made the jump from Division III Western Maryland to big-time lacrosse power, and this weekend the twins will captain the Orangemen in the final four.


The Cordisco twins took a crooked path to captain the college lacrosse program that has been the steadiest in the nation the past two decades.

Chris and Jeff Cordisco used to turn up their noses at the game. They didn't play organized lacrosse until they were sophomores at Glenelg High. When they chose a college, it was in Division III, so they could mix their passion for football with the proficiency they had gained in their new pursuit.

It was a long, strange trip indeed from Howard County to Western Maryland College to Syracuse, the perennial power the Cordiscos will play for in the NCAA final four this weekend at Byrd Stadium. The eighth-seeded Orangemen will meet No. 5 seed Georgetown in Saturday's first semifinal.

"I had a lot of people tell me we couldn't do this," Chris said of their transfer from a program that has never been to the Division III tournament to a mainstay in Division I. "My brother and I just felt a lot of confidence in our ability, and when we made the move, we never looked back."

The twins share a wardrobe, a work ethic, business degrees and Syracuse's second midfield unit. First-year coach John Desko has seen his team unseat three-time champion Princeton and top seed Loyola in successive tournament games, and their string of final four appearances, now at 17, might have ended if not for the persistence of the Cordiscos, fifth-year seniors.

The twins didn't have to be sold on Syracuse, but the Orangemen had to be a little leery of them.

Chris and Jeff had a solid freshman year at Western Maryland in 1994-95. Both started in the defensive backfield for an up-and-coming football team. Lacrosse coach Keith Reitenbach planned to phase them into his lineup, but they were too driven.

"They missed fall lacrosse because they were playing football, and I pretended through the preseason that veterans would start on the first midfield," Reitenbach said. "Anytime we went up and down the field, they dominated a scrimmage, and I couldn't keep them out. I told them when I was recruiting that I was going to let them be the Gary and Paul Gait of Division III."

The Gait twins led Syracuse to half of its six NCAA titles, and Reitenbach's pitch ended up taking on an unexpected twist for two talents who were reluctant to try lacrosse in the first place.

Bored silly when they were dragged to watch older brother Joe play for Mount St. Mary's, the twins would sneak off to Knott Arena to play basketball. They picked up sticks simply to satisfy an ultimatum from their father -- do something to stay in shape for football -- but after they held their own in a state high school senior all-star game, coaches like Dave Cottle of Loyola and Dom Starsia of Virginia inquired about their plans.

The Cordiscos took their two-sport dreams and some nagging doubts to Western Maryland.

"I would watch a Division I game and say, `I know I can do that,' " Jeff said. "I hated the regret I felt, and I didn't want to feel it anymore. We wanted a bigger challenge."

They might have transferred to Penn for their sophomore years if the football staff there thought they had the speed to play in Division I-AA. They settled in for another year in Westminster, but it turned sour when Jeff broke a leg on the opening kickoff of Western Maryland's grudge match with Dickinson.

They didn't return for the spring semester. The twins looked into Loyola, but they were mesmerized by Syracuse.

Ralph Cordisco, their grandfather, had been a star football halfback there, class of '42. His coach had been Roy Simmons Sr., a legend who handed his lacrosse program to his son in 1971. Roy Jr. was familiar with the elder Cordisco's exploits, and when his grandsons asked to visit the school in May 1996, Simmons was generous with his time.

Amid preparation for a tournament game against North Carolina, Simmons described the uphill climb the Cordiscos would face and took note of their zeal. Then he told them to go back to their car and get their Western Maryland transcripts, and that he would take a chance on them.

They spent that summer in Syracuse, where Jeff rehabilitated his knee. The twins appeared in half of the 1997 games, but their commitment and tenacity impressed Simmons, who called them his junkyard dogs. Their roles increased last year, and when peers voted the Cordiscos two of Syracuse's four captains, rookie coach Desko was delighted.

They aren't of the caliber of Syracuse's famed brother tandems, the Gaits and the Powells, but the Cordiscos have been relentless. Jeff played through a knee injury this season, and has three goals. Chris is coming off the game of his life, a career-high three goals in a quarterfinal upset of Loyola. His season total is 11.

The Orangemen are playing with a focus that they didn't have in the regular season, but another NCAA title isn't as unlikely as the way the Cordiscos worked their way into the Syracuse lineup.

NCAA lacrosse

Men's final four

At College Park

Saturday's semifinals

Syracuse (11-4) vs.

Georgetown (13-2), noon

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