Commentary

Defense wins the day for Syracuse

Updated: May 19, 2009, 2:35 PM ET
By Christian Swezey | Inside Lacrosse

There were no noticeable signs of alarm from the Syracuse players when they learned during pregame warm-ups that sophomore John Galloway, the team's starting goalie, had severe flu-like symptoms and was not going to play against Maryland in an NCAA quarterfinal at Hofstra on Saturday.

A couple seniors walked up to his replacement, junior Al Cavalieri, and gave him some quick encouragement. As Cavalieri sat on the bench awaiting the announcement of the starting lineups, two assistants gave him a pat on the helmet. Otherwise, it was business as usual.

That's partly because Syracuse has confidence in Cavalieri and partly because it has a lot of confidence in its defense.

The Orange (14-2) enter their NCAA tournament semifinal against Duke (15-3) with their best defensive numbers in 39 years. Syracuse is giving up 7.3 goals per game, the lowest since 1970. And opponents are noticing.

"When we got good looks the ball went in the cage," Maryland sophomore Grant Catalino said following an 11-6 loss Saturday. "But they made it tough to get good looks."

Each of the three starting defensemen -- senior Sid Smith, junior Matt Tierney and sophomore John Lade -- has a clear identity.

Smith is the most physical and arguably the most skilled of the three. Tierney, a lefty, usually defends the opponent's inside threat. He is most adept at using good positioning. Lade, a transfer from Villanova, has impressed opposing coaches with his ability on ground balls -- he had 771 while at Randolph (N.J.) High -- and with his speed.

The three led the way against Maryland. The Terrapins got no goals and two assists from the starting attack of sophomores Ryan Young and Travis Reed and junior Will Yeatman.

"Lade has the best feet of the three, and he's very charismatic as a pole," Maryland coach Dave Cottle says. "Tierney is good playing inside and as the slide guy. Smith has a very active stick; he's a little bigger than he was last year but he can still play a quick guy like [Virginia's] Danny Glading."

Tierney helped hold Yeatman scoreless Saturday. At 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, Tierney matched up physically with Yeatman.

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Syracuse Athletics Syracuse is riding the strength of its defense into the NCAA tournament semifinals.
"Yeatman is a big, powerful kid," Lade says. "But Tierney is a big, powerful kid too. He matched up against him really well and I'm really happy for Tierney."

Lade was a standout in indoor track and as a running back in high school. He was part of a 4400-meter relay team that broke the Morris (N.J.) County record in 2006, with a time of 3 minutes, 25.80 seconds. He also was timed at 37.11 seconds in the 300-meter dash. In football, he scored 11 touchdowns as a senior.

He began his lacrosse career as a midfielder and, after switching to longstick, he developed a prowess with faceoffs.

His transfer has given the Orange an added dimension -- speed -- and he has worked well with Smith to confound opponents.

"Lade is very good at getting the ball off the ground," Cottle says. "He's also a very good rider."

The three defensemen will be tested by Duke. It remains to be seen whether Lade or Smith will draw senior Ned Crotty, the nation's leader in assists with 53. Junior Max Quinzani enters with 43 goals and needs little time or space for a shot. Between Smith and Lade, whoever does not guard Crotty will likely defend Quinzani.

Sophomore Zach Howell has 26 goals and will probably draw Tierney.

Syracuse may have a question about its goalies after the 14-save performance by Cavalieri against Maryland. History would indicate, however, that Galloway will start if he is healthy. In a 1998 quarterfinal against Virginia, also at Hofstra, then-coach Roy Simmons replaced starting goalie Jason Gebhardt with freshman Rob Mulligan. Syracuse trailed 12-6 at the time.

Mulligan gave up two goals in the final 27 minutes -- including a scoreless fourth quarter -- and Syracuse won, 17-14. In the semifinals against Princeton, however, Gebhardt started and played the whole game.

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