For Orange, extra punch

Lacrosse: It turns out that top-seeded Syracuse, set to meet Johns Hopkins in the NCAA semifinals Saturday, gets itself in fighting trim for each game by ... fighting.

May 24, 2000|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

The secret is out in Syracuse.

The nation's most gifted college lacrosse team stays sharp for Saturday afternoons by duking it out during the week in practice.

"I'll look out on the field and there'll be a fight going on," said outstanding junior faceoff specialist Chris Cercy.

"But there's no bad blood between our players. It's just that our practices are so intense and emotions are so high that guys will go after each other and then forget it later. There is so much at stake on this team. Losing is not an option."

Three-time All-America attackman Ryan Powell said yesterday that he "has gotten involved in a couple of those practice squabbles this year. Nobody gets hurt. We get up and shake hands. The guys seem to get a kick out of them, so I try to do my part."

Syracuse goalkeeper Rob Mulligan said the practice fights are "part of the Syracuse aura. They happen once or twice a week and are broken up quickly. They give us a different type of focus for the game."

Cercy gets a good view of the fisticuffs because he is almost always off the field in a corner somewhere practicing his trade in solitude, like a field-goal kicker in football."We're really a close team," said Cercy. "That is what makes this team different. There are always a lot of stud athletes around here and usually a lot of groups of players. But this team is close on and off the field. We do a lot of things together off the field."

Cercy has helped drive the top-seeded Orangemen (13-1) to their 18th straight NCAA Final Four appearance by winning 72.3 percent of his faceoffs which is the best mark in the country. No, the 18 consecutive Final Fours is not a misprint.

It represents a domination of the game that has become a way of life around Syracuse."We don't take the 18 Final Fours in a row for granted," said Syracuse coach John Desko. "We have a tremendous following of fans in the area who make Final Four reservations a year ahead. We can't let them down."Our alumni and parents are so great. They've been so supportive of our program and now they've helped Syracuse lacrosse add another honor. Our tailgate parties are considered to be No. 1 in the country."

But will the lacrosse team be No. 1 when the all the fireworks are over in College Park on Memorial Day?"The only thing is winning the ring," said Cercy, who is preparing for a major faceoff duel Saturday in the 3 p.m. semifinals against Eric Wedin of fourth-seeded Johns Hopkins (9-3) at Byrd Stadium."It's do or die for us. We can't look ahead to Monday. Hopkins is the national championship for us."

The 6-foot, 190-pound Cercy, who is from Bethpage, N.Y., said he considers Wedin one of the top three faceoff specialists in the country."I used to go against Eric [Levittown, N.Y.] three times a year in high school," said Cercy. "I'd say we broke even back then.""I think we all kind of wanted to play Hopkins again this year. They say you should be careful what you wish for - you might get it - and we have."

Syracuse held off a late charge by the Blue Jays at the Carrier Dome March 17 for a 13-12 victory, when a goal by Hopkins' Bobby Benson was disallowed because the final horn had sounded."We watched a replay of that shot by Benson and it was almost a full second too late," said Cercy. "But I'm sure they'll use that close call to fire them up for us."

The Orangemen have racked up six national championships in its past 17 Final Fours, but Powell has yet to enjoy the sweet taste of one, a fact that has driven him all season and is certain to give Syracuse added incentive.

Powell, a senior, is considered by many to be the best player in the nation this season. He leads the country in points per game with 6.14 and is coming off a four goal, four-assist performance in a 17-13 quarterfinal victory over Georgetown on Saturday."I'm having a decent year personally," said Powell. "But we've just got to get that ring. My brother [Casey] waves that ring of his in my face all the time. I've got to have something to wave back."

Casey Powell led Syracuse to its last national title in 1995, when the Orange defeated Maryland, 13-9, at Byrd Stadium.

Ryan Powell came up short in two NCAA semifinals as a freshman and sophomore, and last season as a junior he was part of a 12-10 loss to Virginia in the championship game.

Lacrosse final 4

At College Park

Saturday's semifinalsSyracuse (13-1) vs. Johns Hopkins (9-3), noon, ESPN2Princeton (11-2) vs. Virginia (13-1), 3 p.m., ESPN2

Monday's championshipSemifinal winners, 10:55a.m., ESPN

Syracuse at a glance

Location: Syracuse, N.Y.

Conference: Independent

Tournament history: The Orangemen are appearing in their 18th straight lacrosse final four and have played in 21 of the 30 NCAA tournaments, winning the championship six times. The last Syracuse national title came in 1995. The Orangemen advanced to the championship game for the 10th time last season, losing to Virginia, 12-10.

How they got here: Syracuse defeated Virginia and Johns Hopkins by one goal and trounced Princeton, 16-4, on the way to a 12-1 regular-season record that earned it the top seed and a bye in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Three-time All-America Ryan Powell then scored four goals and had eight assists to lead his team past an inspired Georgetown, 17-13, Saturday in the quarterfinals at Rutgers.

Coach: John Desko (2nd year, 25-6)

Best game: Season opener, when it beat defending national champion Virginia, 13-12.

Worst game: A 13-12 upset loss to Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., on April 11.

4Goal-scoring leader: Sophomore Michael Springer (43 goals).

Assist leader: Senior Ryan Powell (47) who easily leads the team with 86 points.

Faceoff specialist: Junior Chris Cercy leads the nation in faceoff winning percentage with 221-of-305 for a .724 mark.

Goalie: Junior Rob Mulligan, .623 percentage, 7.78 goals a game

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