Men's Lacrosse

Nick Mariano, No. 2 Syracuse’s leading scorer, is set on leading Orange to first national title in 8 years

Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

Mariano has five hat tricks, a pair of four-goal games and three game-winners for SU, which reached the No. 1 ranking for the first time in nearly two years and reeled off its longest winning streak in six years.

UPDATED: May 16 at 12:32 a.m.

Nick Mariano spent most of his first winter break at Syracuse by himself in a South Campus apartment, where he mulled over the possibilities that lie ahead. He always wanted to play at Syracuse, and the once distant upstate school was now home. The thought of excelling at his dream school excited him so much that he went home for only three days — Christmas Eve, Christmas and the day after — during the break.

Players estimate more than 90 percent of SU lacrosse players go home for break. Not Mariano. He dedicated three-plus weeks to proving himself to his new team. He ran stairs in Manley Field House two to three days per week, lifted four days a week and shot with former SU All-American Dylan Donahue for hours almost every afternoon. In between, alone in his apartment, he played it all out. He visualized the shots from afar, the alley dodges and sweeps, the precision of his rides, the dimes in traffic and the game-winners. He contemplated the ways in which the next two years of his life could go.

“You can do anything you want in life,” Mariano said. “If I hadn’t done that, I’d never know. It was now or never. This is my lifelong dream and it’s coming true.”

In spring 2016, he led the Orange in goals with 35. In less than two years, Mariano has transferred to Syracuse, which didn’t offer him a roster spot out of high school, and has risen near the top of the college game. With a potent lefty snipe and ability to get to the cage, Mariano isn’t just the leading goal-scorer of Syracuse. He’s the face of the Syracuse offense. Over the last two seasons, he has scored 21 more goals than anyone else on the team.

Mariano, who in the second grade begged his parents to paint his bedroom walls orange and blue, is set on leading the No. 2 Orange (13-2, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) to its first national title in eight years.

“He’s a matchup nightmare,” ESPN lacrosse analyst Mark Dixon said. “He’s big, he’s strong. Not necessarily a burner, but he’s quick. Wherever Mariano plays on the field he’s incredibly dangerous. Obviously, Nick Mariano is the alpha male of this team.”

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Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

Mariano excels by playing with the intensity he’s had since he was as a kid. Back then, he threw video game controllers at friends when he didn’t win. He stayed on the field after practices at Yorktown (New York) High School, where he started on varsity all four years, with a bucket of balls, shooting until he couldn’t see the net anymore.

In one of his first college games, Mariano flashed the advanced skill set that allowed him to play with sixth graders when he was a first grader. As a freshman at Massachusetts, he scored four goals at Ohio State, including the game-winner in overtime. Instead of celebrating with his team, he ran to the sideline, hopped over the wall and ran to hug his father, who welcomed Mariano to the sport by placing a plastic lacrosse stick in his hands two hours after he was born.

“Not going to Syracuse right away gave him a drive,” his mother, Cheryl, said. “A drive to be great.”

There are two sides to Mariano. He can be protective, quiet and introverted, those who know him said, as evidenced by the aftermath of his offensive outburst in Jacksonville, Florida. That belies his defense-bulldozing mentality when the ball’s in his stick. Last month, against North Carolina in the ACC semifinals, Mariano tracked down a Tar Heels defensive midfielder from 10 yards away. He batted the ball from his stick, scooped up the ground ball and pushed SU’s transition. Later, he trucked a Carolina midfielder and stared the player down as he walked away.

Plays like that are Mariano staples. He screams when he scores, in practice and in games, like his game-winner against Albany in February. Before warmups, he listens to the same two songs: “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons and “Kick Out the Epic Motherf*cker” by Dada Life. His shot is a sudden, explosive movement.

“At a rough practice, he’d almost bark at me to start hitting the net,” former SU All-ACC midfielder Tim Barber said. “He’d get me pissed off. Then I’d score.”

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Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

Though Mariano himself wouldn’t be here in Syracuse, where he’s carried the team at times, if not for a few days in June 2015. It was shortly after he received his release from UMass when he played at a tournament 8,000 feet above sea level, 100 miles west of Denver in the middle of the Colorado Rockies.

The Vail Lacrosse Tournament is an annual shootout for some of the best college players in the country. Coaches from top programs looked on as Mariano averaged four goals per game against defenders from Duke, Johns Hopkins, Syracuse and Notre Dame.

“Here’s this kid out of UMass, not really a big name, absolutely tearing it up,” said Brian Prestreau, a Penn State senior midfielder and high school teammate of Mariano who also played at the tournament.

Syracuse, those who know Mariano said, was interested but hadn’t offered him a spot to transfer, even after he dominated at Massachusetts, leading the Minutemen in scoring as a freshman and sophomore.

After that tournament, during which he won Offensive MVP honors, he had punched his ticket to Syracuse. Brandon Mullins, a former SU All-ACC defender, told assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Lelan Rogers about what he had just witnessed. “The next thing you know,” said Thomas Mariano, Nick’s older brother, “he’s at Syracuse.”

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Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

In his first year at SU, Mariano led the team in scoring and hit three game-winners while earning All-ACC and All-ACC tournament team honors. In 2017, a player who wasn’t even on Syracuse’s radar this time two years ago is lifting the Orange to one of its more successful seasons since its last national title in 2009. Mariano has five hat tricks, a pair of four-goal games and three game-winners for SU, which reached the No. 1 ranking for the first time in nearly two years and reeled off its longest winning streak in six years.

“He literally dropped out of the sky for us,” SU head coach John Desko said. “I don’t remember Nick in high school. If I did, maybe he’d have an orange jersey on for four years instead of two.”

Mariano said he’s never lost, his head never full of other people’s ideas about the type of player he should be. All he knows is that much of how Syracuse fares in the 2017 NCAA tournament rests on his next move.

“I’ve only got one shot at a national championship,” Mariano said. “I’ve got to make it happen.”

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, the location of Nick Mariano’s offensive outburst was misstated. The outburst occurred in Jacksonville, Florida. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

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