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A look back at Syracuse men’s lacrosse’s first NCAA championship run

1983 Syracuse men's lacrosse team picture.

Syracuse men’s lacrosse is a storied program to say the least. Legendary coaches and players who helped amass eleven NCAA tournament championships along with several individual awards have made sure that is the case. However, from the time when the NCAA instituted a championship for men’s lacrosse in 1971 to SU’s first title in 1983, the program seemed to be just average.

That timeline was identical to that of former Head Coach Roy Simmons Jr. who took the program over from his father prior to the 1971 season. From 1971-1982 SU struggled to keep pace with elites of the time like Johns Hopkins and North Carolina. After a losing season in 1982, Simmons Jr. knew that his team needed to be reconfigured in a unique way.

“I had finally put together a team that was kind of a strange team in a way, there were a lot of kids that had transferred to Syracuse. They gave me a scholarship every year until I got up to seven or eight scholarships. The limit for lacrosse was 12.6. I took the scholarships and cut them in half, you give room and board to him and tuition to him so I could have more kids on the field at one time.”

This system helped Simmons Jr. gain plenty of talent from other universities. Players that transferred in at some point and played on that team included team captains Darren Lawlor and Art Lux as well as one of the team’s top attackmen Tim Nelson among many others. Because of the winding road that brought these players to Syracuse, the team had something invaluable, experience. The Orange had 12 players who were either seniors or graduate students.

That experience led SU to have some lofty goals coming into the 1983 season, even without much going right the season prior. Senior captain Darren Lawlor encapsulated that confidence with a statement that became a team staple.

“A ring and a piece of paper, that's what we want to win. We want to graduate as seniors and we want to walk out with a national championship.”

While this statement was said all the time in the locker room, around campus, and even in class, very few outside of Central New York saw the Orange as real contenders on the national scene. Tim Nelson, who transferred from NC State before the season, recalls that once the team played its first game against perennial power Maryland, belief was widespread in the locker room.

“First game of the year was against the University of Maryland and I think when we went down there people thought of us as the underdogs. We went down and won that game 16-13. From that moment forward everyone was confident in the team we had.

That confidence was instilled over and over again as the Orange won 11 out of 12 games in the regular season. SU followed that with postseason wins over Penn and Maryland leading into a championship clash with Johns Hopkins. Early, it was all Hopkins, Syracuse was down 8-4 at half.

After not being allowed to go to the locker room at half by Coach Simmons, receiving a stern speech, and falling down by seven in the ensuing quarter, a turn switched. SU outscored JHU 4-1 to finish the third. The Orange followed that up with six straight goals to start the final frame and would never again relinquish the lead on the way to immortality. Midfielder Brad Kotz had five goals, all in the 2nd half, and Tim Nelson paced the offense with six assists in the contest. The rest, as they say, is history. The win springboarded the ‘Cuse into a dominant program that's added ten more trophies in four decades since.