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Syracuse Lacrosse takes on Manhattan in a reunion for John Odierna

Defensive Coordinator John Odierna faces off against his former team on Friday
Defensive Coordinator John Odierna faces off against his former team

Next up on the schedule for Syracuse men’s lacrosse (2-0, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) is Manhattan (0-0, 0-0 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) this afternoon. This is the first-ever matchup between the two programs.

Last time out, Syracuse defeated Colgate 18-10 on Monday. The Raiders kept it close early, trailing by just three goals midway through, but the Orange kicked it into high gear in the second half. Attacker Owen Hiltz and midfielder Michael Leo each had a hat trick, but reigning ACC Freshman of the Year Joey Spallina was even more productive. Number 22 built on his seven-point performance against Vermont with four goals and five assists versus Colgate.

The Orange attack has been prolific in the opening pair of games, but the focus leading up to the showdown against the Jaspers will be on the defense. John Odierna, the new defensive coordinator for Syracuse, was the head coach at Manhattan last season, and the DC in the seven years prior.

In 2023, the Jaspers had the number one scoring defense in D1 men’s lacrosse, with just eight goals allowed per game. Odierna’s squad was also top five in man-down defense and clearing percentage. Manhattan went 10-5 to win a share of the MAAC regular season title, but lost to Siena in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Odierna believes that he did what he set out to do in Riverdale, NY.

“When I arrived (at) Manhattan in 2015, our goal was to build a championship-caliber program and I believe that we were able to do that,” the Orange’s new DC said upon leaving his old job. “I will always hold a special place in my heart for the Manhattan men's lacrosse program and wish the program, and the College, the very best.”

SU head coach Gary Gait was excited to pry Odierna away from tonight’s opponents.

“I’m thrilled to have John Odierna join our staff as the defensive coordinator,” raved Gait in August. “He has proven that he is one of the best young coaches in the game. His philosophy aligns well with the program’s and I know he will help to improve our defense.”

Coach Gait wasn’t the only one who liked the hire. On WAER’s lacrosse preview show, Inside Lacrosse CEO Terry Foy predicted that “night and day” changes would come to the SU defense under Odierna’s tutelage. So far, neither of the Orange’s opponents have scored more than ten goals.

Coach Odierna celebrates with his defensive unit
Coach Odierna celebrates with his defensive unit

The team Odierna left behind looks a lot different from last year’s. For starters, former assistant coach Doug Sage is at the helm as interim head coach. Several major contributors have left the program, including 2023’s second and third top scorers, Dan MacKinney and Liam Walshe, FOGO Liam McDonough, second-team all-MAAC SSDM Tadhg O'Riordan, and goalie Joseph Persico, who was named an Honorable Mention All-American by USA Lacrosse Magazine.

Among the returners is MAAC Preseason Co-Player of the Year Kyle Gucwa. The grad student led the 2023 Jaspers in goals and assists, with 25 in each category. Midfielder Matthew Scully was also a member of the preseason all-conference team. Upperclassmen Quinn Bowler, Kelly DuPree, and Scott O’Connor are the only players back from last year’s team to have over 20 points last season, other than Gucwa.

Manhattan has not seen regular season action yet in 2024. There is optimism for Doug Sage’s team, even with the loss of Odierna and several mainstays on the field. The Jaspers were voted third in the MAAC preseason poll.

Syracuse has a chance to claim its third win in a row when Manhattan comes to the Dome. The game begins at 4 p.m. on 88.3 FM, but WAER’s coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. with McClurg Remodeling Countdown to Faceoff.