You may still be staring at the 2022 men’s lacrosse bracket through your fingers. Did the selection committee really just exclude both Duke and, especially, Notre Dame?
On the other hand, there were two other teams we all knew going in had no chance of making the field.
You’d just have to look back on the ’22 season—and beyond.
Johns Hopkins’s April, 2021 game against Michigan, for instance, was a landmark one for the lacrosse program.
Unfortunately, that program was Michigan.
The 13-10 victory marked the first time the Wolverines had ever defeated Hopkins.
Prior to that game, the Blue Jays had lost once to every other Big Ten school on their COVID-constrained, conference-only schedule—with the exception of Michigan.
Now they’d completed the set.
It was only the 5th time Michigan had won a conference game since the inception of Big Ten lacrosse in 2015.
And the Wolverines had won in Baltimore at Homewood Field—marking only the second time they’d beaten a Big Ten opponent on the road.
And just to add to the sting, Michigan was coached by a former Blue Jay player, Kevin Conry.
Conry, the Baltimore Sun related, had made a special pregame pilgrimage to the statue at Homewood honoring Bob Scott, the coaching colossus who won seven national championships with the Blue Jays and compiled an overall record of 158-55-1.
If you’re part of the JHU lacrosse program right now, past glories—as in the “wake up the echoes” thing from the Notre Dame fight song—might be something you probably don’t want to hear too much about.
The Hop ended the 2022 season 7-9. The regular-season finale at Homewood saw the Blue Jays routed 22-7 by instate rival Maryland (whose offensive coordinator, Bobby Benson, in another crowning Conry touch, recently held the same position at Hopkins).
The Terps managed the seemingly impossible feat of scoring 3 goals in 10 seconds in what marked the worst defeat in the history of Hopkins lacrosse.
And that history, which includes 44 national championships and 9 NCAA titles, spans a full 135 years.
The 2022 season has also ended with Hopkins sitting out the NCAA Tournament, for the second consecutive year.
But the Blue Jays will have good company this year. Joining them on the sidelines will be another program in the college lacrosse pantheon: Syracuse.
Syracuse Lacrosse and the Return of a Legend
These are the words that Inside Lacrosse used to usher in the return of a legendary lacrosse player to coach at his alma mater:
“Now he’ll be on the sidelines, urging his team to bring back the glory days…”
But the player wasn’t Gary Gait.
And the school wasn’t Syracuse.
IL was actually talking about Dave Pietramala, who’d returned to Homewood to become head coach at Hopkins from Cornell—back in 2001.
And if anyone could tell Gary Gait what it’s like, legend or not, to take over a struggling lacrosse power with an impatient, even testy fan base, in one of the sport’s hottest hotbeds, it’s Dave Pietramala.
Pietramala has had experience dealing with unhappy people—especially alumni and fans—and at both ends of the spectrum.
Among his many accomplishments in Baltimore, Petro in 2005 delivered to the Hopkins faithful its first national championship since 1989; on the other hand, he was there when, in 2013, the Blue Jays missed the NCAA’s for the first time in 41 years.
At Syracuse, no one needed to wake up any echoes.
They were already up, out of bed, fully caffeinated, and standing right on the SU sideline for all to see.
And it wasn’t just Pietramala, and especially Gait, whose very presence inevitably invites comparisons to the golden era of Orange lacrosse.
Owen Seebold and Brendan Curry, two of the team’s captains and stars, both have fathers who played, and also starred, on those SU teams from the 80’s.
In Syracuse’s case, the blot on the historic record was the 2022 team’s 4-10 record, making it first team in program history to lose 10 games (the only consolation being that, by Hopkins standards, Syracuse Lacrosse is a relative newcomer with a mere 107-year history).
The ‘Cuse also suffered their own humiliation. The Orange were pummeled by Notre Dame 22-6.
But more immediately, the ‘Cuse missed the NCAA Tournament, and for the first time since 2007.
In Defense of Johns Hopkins Lacrosse
You know things are bad when you’re named interim head coach, in replacement of yet another interim head coach, of a team that’s gone 6-7 and 5-8 in the two previous seasons and has been forecasted by most preseason analysts to finish 5th in its conference.
But that was actually the unhappy situation at Cornell when Peter Milliman stepped into the head coaching position.
Milliman has yet to perform the same miracle in Baltimore that he did in Ithaca, but that’s not entirely—or even mostly—his fault.
This post isn’t intended as a full-blown post-mortem on the Hopkins 2022 season. But it’s clear that the program Milliman inherited had some challenges, including everything from talent and depth issues at midfield to a new president and administration less congenial about recruiting.
And yes, the Blue Jays were humiliated by the Terps in April; but two things are important about that loss.
First, exactly one week after what could have been a soul-crushing defeat (they’d lost at home and on Senior Day no less), the Jays beat Penn State 16-8 in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament; this was not a great PSU team, but the fact that Hopkins didn’t give up—just as it had played hard for Millican throughout the ’21 season—is encouraging.
Also, in fairness, Hopkins was just one of 6 teams this season to give up 20+ goals to Maryland (one of them being Virginia, which lost by the not-so-different final score of 23-12.)
So it’s not a completely backhanded compliment to point out that in their next game against the Terps, in the Big Ten Tournament, the Jays lost 16-11, or by the same 5-goal margin that Princeton had; in fact, only two other teams played Maryland closer in 2022, one being Notre Dame and the other, notably, being Syracuse.
In Defense of Syracuse Lacrosse
Gary Gait came became head coach as a result of only the fourth coaching change in Syracuse Lacrosse history. When he then brought in Dave Pietramala, yet another figure enshrined on Paul Carcaterra’s Lacrosse Mt. Rushmore, it’s easy to see how expectations for the new regime could take off.
Especially on the heels of a rocky ’21 season, complete with both on and off-the-field issues.
Another, totally external factor may have played into the frustration and pressure surrounding the ’22 Syracuse lacrosse season.
Gait’s start also coincided with tailspins suffered by the university’s two other marquee teams: football and basketball. This prompted Syracuse.com to wail in a headline, “When’s the last time Syracuse’s big 3 sports have been this bad?”. (Their answer: 1982).
Again, the purpose of this post isn’t to dissect the 2022 SU team’s failings; but there are a litany of possible contributing factors for this historically bad performance.
Owen Hiltz, who began 2022 on the heels one of the most impressive freshman seasons in SU history, was lost for the entire season due to an upper-body injury; there were also inevitably the usual issues transitioning to a new coaching staff and system (which might’ve been most remarkable on the defensive side: SU ranked 54 in scoring defense in 2021, but took a step back to 63 in 2022).
At times, especially in their win over Duke, the Orange actually looked like a team that had solidified. That may have to wait until a new crop of recruits, less tied to previous systems and habits, hits campus.
Fortunately, that incoming class looks like a strong one (and has been rated #4 overall by Inside Lacrosse).
The Good, The Bad and The “Ugly”
The absence of Syracuse and Hopkins in 2022 field says a lot about the state of the college game today.
Syracuse and Hopkins two of five schools that had dominated college lacrosse for decades. From 1978 until 2009, either Syracuse, Hopkins, Princeton, North Carolina, or Virginia, had won every national title.
The stranglehold on talent, exposure, and recruiting channels once exerted by programs like Syracuse and Hopkins has ebbed, and for a variety of reasons.
One architectural critique of the Carrier Dome described it as “iconic in its ugliness”. That description also seems to fit the lacrosse teams that have recently called the SU facility home. The Orange lacrosse program—and that of Hopkins—still retains an unmistakable cachet, even at its ugliest.
On the other side of the equation, it will be exciting to see a team like Boston University and Saint Joseph’s participate in their first NCAA Tournament. Some of the remaining teams in the field were also the kind of programs that, too often, found themselves squeezed out of at-large consideration by the halo effect given sainted programs like the Hop and the ‘Cuse.
Even so, it will be strange—and a little sad— not to see either team in the Tournament field; they’ll be back.
David Parry is the founder and editor of LaxAcrossAmerica. A New York-based digital marketer and copywriter, he played Division 1 lacrosse as a walk-on at Brown.