Men's Lacrosse

More experienced, communicative defense to lead Syracuse into 2013 season

Stacie Fanelli | Staff Photographer

Brian Megill and the Syracuse defense are looking to become a stout unit after struggling at times last season. The Orange has a its final preseason tuneup with scrimmages against Ohio State and Robert Morris on Saturday.

During the 2011 season, the Syracuse defense surrendered nearly seven goals per game, outworking and outperforming other teams’ offensive units.

In 2012, that number skyrocketed to more than nine, as SU’s defense allowed 157 goals, the most since 2006.

This year, Syracuse’s defense returns nearly all of its key contributors, including anchor Brian Megill. Players such as Matt Harris, Brandon Mullins and Kyle Carey have one more year of experience under their belt, and will look to take SU’s defense to the next level. The Orange defense will have a chance to continue to jell together and iron out some more kinks Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, when it squares off against Ohio State and Robert Morris at 11:30 a.m. in its final scrimmages before the regular season.

“I’ve been trying to force the jelling issue,” Megill said. “A defense is only as good as its weakest link. We’ve got to come together as a unit.”

Megill was named the Big East Preseason Co-Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season. Last season, he set an SU single-season record with 37 caused turnovers, serving as a steady presence for a streaky defense.

Carey called Megill the No. 1 defender in the country without hesitation. He said the defense flourishes with Megill as the “frame.”

“Basically whenever the ball’s on the ground, Brian’s the one to get it,” Carey said. “He busts his butt every day. People see that, and the rest of the team wants to work as hard as he does.”

The undisputed leader of the defense, Megill’s role is more than just a defender. He’s the glue that keeps everything together and thrives as one of Syracuse’s main voices on defense.

SU head coach John Desko called Megill a natural leader. He said his role hasn’t changed much since last year, and he’s ready to command the Syracuse defense and ensure a turnaround becomes a reality, rather than just an expectation.

“It’s pretty natural for him to be in that leadership role,” Desko said. “He’s vocal, he works very hard and off the field he does the right things.”

But one man doesn’t make a defense. As Megill said, a defense is only as good as its weakest link.

Harris, Mullins and David Hamlin are three centerpieces for Syracuse. All three have in-game experience and are ready to spark a resurgence.

Harris said he, Megill, Mullins and other players bonded this summer at the Vail Lacrosse Shootout playing for Team Maverik, as well as at the Lake Placid Lacrosse tournament.

Last year, Harris said miscommunication sometimes haunted the Orange. Players were still getting to know each other, and miscues often resulted from missed assignments or sloppy organization.

Now, with summer tournaments, fall practices and one spring scrimmage to learn from, Harris said the defense is meshing better as a whole.

“With defense, it’s all about communication and talking and knowing where each person is going to be on the field,” Harris said. “I feel like with another year under our belts that will help us in game situations.”

Most of Syracuse’s key defenders are retuning players, but freshmen such as Ryan Palasek, Jay McDermott and Sean Young will likely see minutes for the Orange early in the season.

SU’s defense gave up 10 goals to Hofstra – ranked No. 17 by Inside Lacrosse – in its first scrimmage Saturday. The Pride scored nine second-half goals as the Orange emptied its bench, including five in the first 10 minutes of the fourth period.

But then Syracuse’s defense buckled down. The Orange held Hofstra scoreless for the rest of the game, thwarting off the Pride’s advances.

In the second game against Holy Cross, the defense allowed only six goals, two of them coming in garbage time with the game out of reach.

Not much stock can be placed in exhibition games, but Syracuse’s defense certainly showed potential. With Megill as the anchor and an improved, more experienced supporting cast, Carey believes SU’s defense is far better than it was a year ago.

“I feel like the defense is very much the heart of the team,” Carey said. “As long as we can keep the excitement and keep the aggressiveness going on defense, we can really ignite a light under this team. It’s going to start with the defense.”

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