Syracuse’s Brett Kennedy Steps Up in Nick Mellen’s Absence

Friday, Feb 28, 2020 at 3:33 pm by Sports Editor

By Cameron Macauley

CitrusTV Men’s Lacrosse Beat Repoter

Syracuse’s close defense had a lot of questions to answer in 2020 as the graduations of Tyson Bomberry and Marcus Cunningham opened two spots for the Orange to fill. Two-time USILA All-American Nick Mellen, who has served as SU’s lead coverage defenseman, was supposed to anchor of the defense. 

At least for the term, that all changed in the third quarter of Syracuse’s season opener against Colgate. Mellen dove in a last-ditch effort to stop Brian Minicius from scoring and planted awkwardly on his left leg. He would walk off under his own power, but it would be the last time he’d see the field in that game.

Mellen has been sidelined since the Orange’s win over the Raiders, missing Syracuse’s last 2 games. He is also unlikely to play Friday against Hobart, making that contest agains Colgate the last time Mellen would play in the Dome in his SU career.

When it became evident Mellen would not play against Binghamton, John Desko turned to a player known more for his offensive capabilities to fill the void as the Orange’s primary cover defender: Brett Kennedy.

“Fortunately, Lelan [Rogers] worked Brett in down low, in at close defense in the fall,” said head coach John Desko. “Did a lot of one-on-one’s, worked a lot in the defensive packages with him down low, and I’m glad we did.”

Kennedy is traditionally a long-stick midfielder, registering five points and leading the Orange with 44 ground balls in 2019. Suddenly, he was in a much different position, being asked to guard Will Talbott-Shere, Binghamton’s leader in assists in 2019. Kennedy passed the test with flying colors, holding Talbott-Shere to just one point in a 17-4 victory for the Orange.

“Coming down from LSM, it’s definitely different,” said Kennedy. “Up top, it’s more of, like open up your hips and run, but down low it’s a lot more like short steps, quick and side-to-side stuff.”

The stakes were raised for Kenndey in SU’s third game of the season. Then-No. 9 Army was in the Dome, led by one of the best attackers in the nation: Sophomore Brendan Nichtern. This presented a true test for Kennedy in his coverage ability.

Nichtern got the better of Kennedy in the first half, scoring twice and assisting on two other goals. But as Syracuse stormed back with a 7-2 second half, Kennedy held Nichtern without a point.

“I thought he was pretty good,” Desko said. “He played him very fundamentally strong, not a lot of checking, not a lot of checks to take the ball away, just tried to stay in his bottom hand, stay in front of him.”

For Kennedy, the biggest adjustment has been learning how to fight through picks and stick with his man, a tactic Army employed throughout Saturday’s game.

“Down low, there’s a lot more picks to deal with,” Kennedy said. “In terms of practice we do a lot of pick drills, we do a lot of defensive drills with Coach Rogers.”

With Mellen’s timetable for a return unclear, Kennedy will continue to mark the top attackers on SU’s schedule. But, Kennedy’s play has afforded the Orange the luxury of not having to rush Mellen back to the field.

“I don’t think [Mellen] is ready to go either way,” Desko said. “But think the fact that Kennedy is playing so well down low, we don’t feel that urgency that maybe we would if Kennedy wasn’t playing that well.” | @CJMacauley