SU Men’s Lacrosse Season Preview: Goalies and Faceoff Specialists
By Nick Luttrell | @nickluttie
CitrusTV Men’s Lacrosse Beat Reporter
When most think about lacrosse, they picture the star attackman or midfielder slicing through the defense and slinging the ball into the back of the net. But many often forget two key positions that could make a good team look great, or on the flip side, make a good team look bad. And those two key positions that will be especially important for Syracuse this season are the goalies and faceoff specialists.
For Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse, the goalie situation is one of the biggest question marks heading into the season. Former All-American Drake Porter, who started every game last year, graduated this past spring. You have to go back to 2018 to see the last time that SU didn’t have Porter starting at goalie. Many assumed that Sophomore Harrison Thompson would be the next man up this season… that was until just two months ago when former Virginia goalie Bobby Gavin announced he would be transferring to SU. Now, both players will fight for a starting spot trying to fill the shoes left by Porter. Let’s take a deeper look at each player and the unique skill set they bring to the goalie position.
Harrison Thompson – Sophomore
Thompson has waited his turn for two years learning from the now-graduated Drake Porter as his backup in 2020 and 2021. Last season as a freshman he played in three games giving up four goals on 19 shots faced and also had three saves. The bulk of his playing time came when he played all of the fourth quarter when Syracuse was losing by double digits to Notre Dame. While he’s not as experienced as Bobby Gavin, he’s been with the team for much longer and has shown promise in his limited time on the field.
Bobby Gavin – Sophomore
It didn’t even take Gavin a week from the time he entered the transfer portal to when he committed to Syracuse. Last year, Gavin played in eight games and started in two for the defending national champion Virginia Cavaliers. He recorded 29 saves and also allowed 29 goals as a freshman. Most notably Gavin was named ACC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in February against Army where he had 13 saves. The San Diego native has the experience and might even have the skill over the slightly smaller Thompson, but the question remains if just six weeks with the program will be enough preparation to get him the start in game one.
Like teams often do with goalies in lacrosse or quarterbacks in football, don’t be surprised to see Coach Gait give equal minutes to Thompson and Gavin in Saturday’s home opener against Holy Cross.
Next up is the faceoff position preview for Syracuse. While it’s true that the faceoff players spend the least amount of time on the field compared to any other position, that doesn’t make it any less important. For those unfamiliar with this position, these are the players that start the game at midfield. They also “face-off” after each goal. And then as soon as one of them wins the ball from the other, they pass it to their teammate and run off the field. That’s it. That’s all this position group does. While it sounds small, their impact can be huge on the outcome of the game. For example, last season for all but one game when the Orange won the faceoff battle, they won the game.
Things won’t look much different this year as Senior Jakob Phaup is expected to return as the starting faceoff man. Backing up him just like last year will likely be Sophomore Jack Savage. While those two are the consistent parts of this position, the coach is not. In addition to bringing in Dave Pietramala, Head Coach Gary Gait also managed to secure TD Ierlan as a volunteer assistant coach. Ierlan is largely known as the greatest faceoff man to ever play college lacrosse. At Albany, Yale and Denver he finished with a combined .751 winning percentage of faceoffs – an NCAA record. He currently also plays for Redwoods in the PLL (Premier Lacrosse League). What does this really mean? Jakob Phaup should have no excuse for not being one of the best faceoff players in college lacrosse this season. That being said, let’s check out a brief description of Phaup.
Jakob Phaup – Senior
Phaup returns for his final season at SU and his third straight as the go-to faceoff specialist. After winning more than 60% of his faceoffs in 2019 and nearly 68% in 2020, he didn’t continue that trend last year as he finished with a 57% faceoff win percentage. Part of his downfall last year could’ve been because of the new rule which kept players from using the ‘motorcycle grip’. This grip let players put both hands on the stick with palms down. But in 2021 that grip was banned from play forcing faceoff specialists like Phaup to put at least one palm facing up when gripping the stick. While Phaup struggled for the majority of last season, he surprisingly played exceptional in his two games against Virginia and Petey LaSalla. His average faceoff win percentage in games against UVA was 77%. In all other ACC games, it was 27%.
Syracuse needs Phaup to return to his dominant self like he showed traits of in 2020. And with the help and mentorship of TD Ierlan, a current pro who is only a year older than the players, it seems possible for that to happen.