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Sunday, Apr 14, 2019 at 8:15 am

Syracuse takes down UNC behind breakout performance at the X

By Sam Rothman

CitrusTV Men’s Lacrosse Beat Reporter

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — After the final whistle, Nate and Nicky Solomon embraced as they walked down the handshake line. Nicky, who is a freshman attack for UNC, whispered something into big brother Nate’s ear as he and his Orange (8-3, 2-2 ACC) teammates celebrated their 12-9 bounce-back victory against the Tar Heels (7-5, 1-2 ACC).

“We’re always very competitive,” Nate said. “He [Nicky] came up to me and was talking about how many points he had and I was just like, ‘Dude. I got one on you.’”

At Centennial High School in Georgia, Nate graduated with 623 points, good for a third place all-time national ranking. Just three years later, younger brother Nicky left his own mark in the peach state with 684 points, putting him in second place just above his big brother.

However, in their first and only meeting at the collegiate level, it was Nate who won the brotherly battle. While Nicky started the game off with two straight goals and an assist, Nate finished the day with a hat trick and a helper for four points.

It was not only a special day for the Solomons on the field, but also for the Solomons in the stands. The brothers had about 30 friends and family members in town for the game, and Nate said instead of rooting for either the Tar Heels or the Orange, they rooted for the Solomons.

“They made t-shirts,” Nate said. “They were split down the middle with number five North Carolina and number three Syracuse.”

At one point in the game, it looked like Nicky’s team was going to come away with the win. Despite Syracuse starting off hot right out of the gate, UNC grabbed a 6-2 lead early in the second quarter after the Orange netted the first two goals of the game.

However, erasing four-goal deficits seems to be the norm for Syracuse lacrosse. For the fourth time this season, the Orange found themselves down by four, but a 10-1 scoring run allowed them to come away with their second conference win of the year.

“I thought our guys started off great and then Carolina came roaring back,” said SU Head Coach John Desko. “But, then we came alive in the second quarter and fought back, and we made it a game again. In the second half we played Syracuse lacrosse.”

While attention was on the Solomon brothers playing at opposite ends, there was a breakout performance right in the middle of the field at the faceoff X.

“We’ve been going with Jakob [Phaup] the last couple of games, and today he had his chances out there but he didn’t have great success,” said Desko. “Danny [Varello] came in and did a tremendous job getting all those possessions and getting us back into the game.”

After being the go-to faceoff specialist last season, Danny Varello has struggled this season. However, Varello said talking to his family everyday has helped him through this tough stretch. After a dominating performance at the X against the Tar Heels, Varello’s post-game call to his support system was going to be a good one. The junior ended the day 13-for-18.

“I think it’s all rhythm,” said Varello. “If you can get up on the first two or three, you get a lot of confidence going throughout the game. For me the most important one was the first one out there.”

Not only did Varello win that first one, but he also won the next nine as he went 10-for-10 to start out the game.

“He’s got very quick hands and he gets the ball out quick, but he doesn’t always make great decisions with it,” said Desko. “Today, he made really good decisions with it. A couple of times the ball was in between the two faceoff people and he was able to push the guy off and pick the ball up. He really showed that he could do different things than what he has been doing in the past.”

While Varello built confidence with each faceoff win, he said that momentum translated over to his teammates at the offensive end of the field.

“With faceoffs it’s just pretty much get the ball to the offense,” said Varello. “The more they have the ball, the more of a rhythm they get into.”

While the Syracuse offense got into a rhythm, so did the SU defense. For the third straight game, the Orange held their opponent to single digits while they scored in double digits. In the past three contests, Syracuse has had complete team efforts and Solomon’s goal with one second left in the third quarter showed just that.

“Off of the faceoff win, Brett [Kennedy] came down and drew a good slide from the defense,” said Solomon. “I mean it’s pretty easy from there. I give all credit to Brett and Danny on that one.”

While Nate’s team came out on top today, Nicky may have a chance to even the series against his big brother. That opportunity is in just a couple of weeks as Syracuse heads back down to Chapel Hill for the ACC tournament. First, however, Syracuse wraps up the regular season against Navy in Annapolis, Maryland on Saturday.

sbrothma@syr.edu | @samrothman_