Mullins stymies top attacks with help from midfielder Salcido
Spencer Bodian | Staff Photographer
Brandon Mullins quipped about guarding the small, fast guy every game, then laughed while rattling off the ones he’s faced.
Duke’s Jordan Wolf. Notre Dame’s Matt Kavanagh. North Carolina’s Joey Sankey. Cornell’s Dan Lintner.
But when asked how he’s had so much success against some of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s premier scorers, Mullins’ smile grew bigger as he revealed Syracuse’s ace in the hole.
“Sergio (Salcido) pushes me so hard in practice,” Mullins said. “He always wears the number of the guy I am going to guard and plays just like them. With how fast he is, it feels no different when I get out there.”
According to freshman attack Dylan Maltz, the team has started to take notice of the Salcido-Mullins matchup when the scout team faces the starting defense in practice. Salcido — a redshirt freshman midfielder that has played as a faceoff wing this season — isn’t a natural attack, but his quickness mirrors the players Mullins squares off with each game.
No. 4 Syracuse (9-3, 2-3 ACC) has won five straight games since losing to Duke, 21-7, on March 23, and Mullins — who was one of 18 players named to the All-ACC team Wednesday — has helped key the run. The SU defense hasn’t yielded more than 10 goals in a game since that loss to the Blue Devils.
The Orange will look to continue its best stretch of the season against the No. 2 Blue Devils (12-2, 4-1) in the semifinals of the ACC tournament on Friday in Chester, Pa., and Mullins will be tasked with defending Wolf for the second time this season.
Wolf was also named to the All-ACC team, his fourth selection in as many seasons, and collected five goals and three assists the last time the Orange and Blue Devils met. He’s one of the few attacks to get the best of Mullins this year, only heightening Salcido’s role this week.
“I’ve looked into (Wolf’s) game a lot and will continue to leading up to the game,” Salcido said. “It’s really beneficial for everyone. I get better playing against a defender as good as Mullins, and I do my best to get him ready.”
After watching hours of film on SU’s upcoming opponent, assistant coach Lelan Rogers meticulously constructs the scout team. Rogers said it can be tough to find players to match the style and size of opponents, but some matches click.
Six-foot-7, 252-pound freshman Matt Lane will play the part of Duke sophomore midfielder Myles Jones — who stands 6 feet, 4 inches and notched five goals against SU in March. And the 5-foot-7 Salcido will once again mimic the 5-foot-9 Wolf while Mullins gives chase.
“He’s a good fit to get (Mullins) used to playing that kind of guy,” Rogers said. “We tell the guys on the scout team that they are, in a way, the most important part of the team because of preparation.
“Brandon is slowly becoming a really, really good defender, and those looks in practice are showing.”
If Salcido didn’t take pride in preparing Mullins, the results wouldn’t be as tangible.
On top of the film that he watches with assistant coach Kevin Donahue to break down his play at the faceoff wings, Salcido also studies up on the tendencies of the players he’ll be embodying on the scout team — from playing lefty for an entire week to mirror Wolf or staying low to the ground on his dodges from behind the cage like Kavanagh.
It’s all helped Mullins learn how to combine his high IQ and natural physicality to stymie smaller, quicker attacks.
“He’ll run up to me like, ‘Hey, today I’m Joey Sankey,’ or whoever,” Mullins said. “It’s him challenging me to step it up. He plays a lot like them; it doesn’t even surprise me anymore.”
In the Orange’s season-reviving win streak since falling in Durham, N.C., Mullins has been the defensive stopper for a unit getting better every game.
The sophomore held Kavanagh scoreless — after Kavanagh scored seven goals against Ohio State early that week — in a win over then-No. 7 Notre Dame on March 29. Then, he held Sankey to just one goal when the Orange beat then-No. 4 North Carolina on April 12 to solidify its spot in the conference tournament.
“Looks like Sergio’s doing his job,” Maltz said.
By Friday, Mullins will have had one week to guard Salcido’s rendition of Wolf before getting another shot at Wolf himself.
“It’s definitely easier to pretend to be a guy than stop a guy,” Salcido said. “But I’m always confident in Brandon.”
Published on April 24, 2014 at 2:00 am