SYRACUCE, N.Y. (AP)It’s safe to say that Gary Gait’s first year as lacrosse coach at Syracuse has been a challenge.
With three games left in the regular season, the Orange (4-7, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) are the only team with a losing overall record in the five-team ACC. That’s uncharted territory for Syracuse, which has had only one losing season since 1975, 5-8 in 2007 under John Desko.
”It’s been a tough couple of weeks,” Gait said after a 16-15 overtime loss at home to No. 5 Cornell on Monday night. ”We’ll move forward from this.”
The Orange also have lost to top-ranked Maryland, No. 2 Virginia, No. 13 Army, No. 16 Notre Dame, No. 18 Johns Hopkins, and in their first-ever visit to Albany, 14-12 last week.
The record is a far cry from yesteryear when Gait, one of the greatest players in college lacrosse history, and a host of other All-Americans helped lead Syracuse to impressive dominance. From 1980 to 2013 Syracuse reached the Final Four 27 times and won 10 national championships, plus one that was vacated, under coaches Roy Simmons Jr. and Desko, who retired last June.
The ties to the program run deep. Robert Seebold (1980-83) was a member of the Orange’s first national championship team in 1983, and Todd Curry was a three-time All-American midfielder (1984-87). Their sons, Owen Seebold and Brendan Curry, are senior captains on this year’s team, so the lack of success is sort of foreign.
”For a program that we all grew up absolutely loving, it’s tough when the ball doesn’t bounce your way,” Brendan Curry said. ”You’ve got to just keep fighting. I told the guys to just lean on each other during this time. Pretty unfamiliar for a lot of us. It’s a weird feeling.”
Syracuse is on its second three-game losing streak of the season, also the first time that’s happened since 1975, after blowing a five-goal lead against the Big Red. The Orange have allowed more goals (153) than they’ve scored (148) and rank 63rd in goals allowed out of 72 teams.
Tucker Dordevic leads the team with 39 goals and 11 assists, followed by Curry with 27 goals and 11 assists, and Seebold with 23 goals and six assists. But the Orange have been without attack Owen Hiltz, who had 29 goals and 19 assists last year as a freshman. He went down in a preseason scrimmage and has not played, and eight midfielders have missed 28 games combined.
”We’re playing with what we have,” said Gait, who had a .736 winning percentage while coaching the Syracuse women for 14 years, reaching the national championship game last year. ”It seems like every game we lose someone or are short a player here or there. It’s tough to come in and it’s not one player, it’s not two, it’s three or four or five that you’re replacing. It just makes it difficult. I give our kids credit. They’re not quitters.”
Syracuse began the season ranked No. 12 and a 28-5 victory over Holy Cross in the opener moved the Orange to No. 9.
It’s been downhill since.
The Orange lost 14-10 at home to Maryland, which scored three straight goals to open the fourth quarter to break open a one-goal game. That started the Orange’s first three-game skid and the next week they trailed defending national champion Virginia 8-1 after one period and allowed seven goals in the third in a 20-11 loss on the road. Army then beat them 17-13 with a five-goal barrage in the fourth quarter in the Carrier Dome.
A 14-10 victory over No. 10 Duke in late March evened Syracuse’s record at 4-4, but hopes of building on that success were dashed at Notre Dame in the next game. The Irish bolted to a stunning 12-0 lead and won 22-6 behind eight goals from Jake Taylor, who had scored just three times in the first six games of the season.
No longer receiving votes in the national polls, Syracuse plays at No. 15 North Carolina (7-4, 0-3 ACC) on Saturday and needs to win out to make the NCAA Tournament.
Gait remains hopeful.
”We’ve had a lot of tough losses,” he said. ”That Cornell game was a complete positive … that we put ourselves in that position. It shows when we actually execute the game plan and put a solid effort in we can compete against anybody.
”They haven’t given up. This team’s pretty resilient,” he said. ”We’re just focusing on getting better. The guys aren’t happy.”
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports