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No. 4 Syracuse Returns Home to Face the Nation’s Top Assist Team

Owen Caputo collected a cross-field pass from Nakeie Montgomery. He lightly jogged as he looked down field toward goalie Drake Porter. Saam Olexo guarded closely, he didn’t want to give up a 15th goal to Duke. The No. 1 and No. 4 teams sat deadlocked at 14 apiece with 3:30 remaining in regulation.


Caputo lulled his defender, then broke downfield. His over-the-head pass found attack Michael Sowers behind the net, mere feet from the right side of Porter’s crease. Sowers took two steps, Porter jumped and Duke’s leading point-scorer fired a shot into the net, giving the Blue Devils a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.


“We know that we can play with anyone. It’s only March, so it’s not the end of the world,” redshirt senior Stephen Rehfuss said after the Duke game. “Definitely not how we wanted to start out the game, obviously you don’t want to go down like that.”


The attack finished the loss with a hat trick — his third of the young season.

Now No. 4 Syracuse (4-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) has its sights set on No. 9 Notre Dame (4-1, 0-1) — its fourth USILA ranked opponent in six games. It’s a battle of a dynamic Orange offense against a stalwart Fighting Irish defense.


Notre Dame has the top scoring defense in the country, allowing just 6.6 goals per game, while Syracuse’s 15.67 goals per game ranks them sixth in the country. But the onus hasn’t been placed on the back of one goal scorer. In fact, attack Will Yorke is the only member of the Fighting Irish with double-digit goals (he has 10), and averages a team-high two goals per game.


This clip is tied for 81st in the NCAA, so who’s catalyzing the offense? Pat Kavanagh has played 10 collegiate games, yet the sophomore attack leads college lacrosse in assists per game, with 4.2. 


In last season’s coronavirus-shortened season, Kavanagh tied the team-high 16 points and started each game — all while as a freshman. 


After rising to one of the top lacrosse recruits in 2019, Kavanagh was selected to the USA U19 Team that was scheduled to compete in Limerick, Ireland, in the summer of 2020 prior to the coronavirus pandemic.


He signed with Notre Dame, and became an instant impact. The New York native made an immediate impact, scoring three goals and assisting on four in his first collegiate game against Cleveland State. He followed up that performance with four goals and 12 shots against Richmond.


Credit Notre Dame Athletics
Syracuse's biggest challenge defensively could be New York native Pat Kavanagh who leads UND in points with 28.

Kavanagh’s replicated his success thus far, and while he’s third on the team in goals (7), he assists on 29.5% of the Fighting Irish’s scores. His help on the offense could prove detrimental to a Syracuse squad that allows nearly 12 goals per game — they’ve only held Stony Brook and Holy Cross to less than 10 goals.

“What we do every week is we try to see tendencies and see where the opposing faceoff man likes to bring the ball out,” head coach John Desko said. “And we’ll try to put somebody in that spot.” 

He said that Kevin Corrigan’s teams usually clear the ball at a high percentage, so Desko has been working with his wings to ensure Notre Dame can’t utilize the fast break as much as they like to.

Corrigan — Division I’s longest-tenured head coach — has led his 33rd UND team to second in the nation in assists per game (10.4), and a 90.7% clear rate, good enough for fifth in the country.

Through five games, Syracuse had only allowed one more assist than in its five games during the 2020 season. However, Duke’s players notched eight assists in their one-goal victory over the Orange.

Syracuse must match this well-rounded offense if it wants to return to its winning ways and pick up its second win in ACC play. Desko said that might start with freshman Owen Hiltz. Inside Lacrosse’s No. 2 prospect has started the last five games for the Orange after Desko opted for Griffin Cook against Army.

“He’s just been getting better and better. He’s finishing the ball well. His range is good. Originally he was a 12-and-in shooter, but now he’s extended his range,” Desko said of Hiltz.

The attack has put up the most points (26) by an SU freshman through six games than anyone. A repeat of his four-goal performances against Stony Brook and Vermont, or his five points against Virginia in his first career start may balance out the impending factor of Kavanagh.

Owen Hiltz has 25 shots through six games, leading to 14 goals.

Syracuse will look to get back to its winning ways against the nation’s top man-up offense on Saturday in the Carrier Dome at 12 p.m. WAER’s coverage of this top-10 matchup begins at 11:30 a.m. with Countdown to Faceoff.