Forget football and basketball, did you know Syracuse is a lacrosse school?

Forget football and basketball, did you know Syracuse is a lacrosse school?

The Orange men's and women's programs have rich histories and winning records. Here are some of the basics to help you get into the game.
Published: April 9, 2021
Graphic: SU men's lacrosse ranked #9 and women's lacrosse #3 nationally

After the football shoulder pads are hung up for the season and basketball’s floorboards are stored away, it’s time for lacrosse to take the turf in the Dome. Syracuse’s athletic reputation has long been connected to football and basketball, while lacrosse has quietly remained one of the most successful sports at the school.

So, as a fan of the Orange, maybe it’s time to start thinking about Syracuse as a lacrosse school. The sport itself is one of the oldest in North America, and it has a storied, prolific history of its own at Syracuse.

Since 1916, the men’s program has won five pre-NCAA era championships and 11 national championships, although one was vacated in 1990. No head coach – four in team history – has a losing record. Syracuse men’s lacrosse has graduated two Tewaaraton Trophy winners – including Mike Powell, who won it twice. Between coaches and players, there are 23 Orange players in the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Created in 1998, the women’s program appeared in two national championship games and has only missed three tournaments since 2000. Neither of the two coaches in program history has a losing record, and the Orange have had just one season with a losing record, a 9-10 finish in 2018. This year, Syracuse’s roster boasted the best female player in college lacrosse, Emily Hawryschuk, before she suffered season-ending injury before the second game.

Heading into this weekend’s matchups, Syracuse women’s lacrosse is the No. 3 women’s team in the nation and men’s lacrosse is the No. 9 men’s squad.

What makes both of the SU lacrosse teams so successful?

“Syracuse and the rest of Upstate New York is a major lacrosse hotbed. It’s easy to recruit the nation’s top players when they’re right in [your] backyard,” said Bri Stahrr, a former goalie on the women’s team. “The coaching staff for both programs is outstanding. The combo of great coaching and great playing helps the Syracuse tradition live on.”

Stahrr grew up in Syracuse, which meant she also grew up watching one of the top teams in the nation as she herself became involved in the game. It was a no-brainer for her to commit to SU at 15-years-old and a dream come true when she played on the same field – from 2016-2019 – as many of the athletes she looked up to.

But, even knowing all of this, you may be thinking that lacrosse is a sport you just can’t get into. Maybe the rules are too complicated, or the game is too confusing to follow. With fans coming back to the Dome for the first time in nearly a year, here are some things to know to get new fans into the game.

NCAA Lacrosse: Albany at Syracuse
Syracuse Orange midfielder Tucker Dordevic (23) dodges to the goal against the defense of Albany Great Danes midfielder Conner Fingar (23).

The very basics

Women’s lacrosse is played on a larger field than men’s, and there are more players on the field in the women’s game. Men’s lacrosse is played with three defenders, three midfielders, three attackers and a goalie. There are two additional players – an attacker and a defender – in the women’s game.

Don’t be alarmed if you see players running behind the net; that part of the field is playing space, so the field doesn’t end at the goalie crease.

When players have possession of the ball, they will often run with their stick swinging side to side or up and down. This is called cradling and it helps keep the ball in the stick. The basic movements are the same in both games but, according to Stahrr, men are more likely to cradle by their hips or side and women are more likely to cradle by their head.

NCAA Womens Lacrosse: Notre Dame at Syracuse
Syracuse Orange midfielder Sierra Cockerille (43) cradles the ball in front of a Notre Dame defender. In a situation like this, cradling the ball can keep it in Cockerille's stick and make it harder for the Notre Dame player to hit it out.

Why is that player sprinting off the field?

Similar to a jump ball in basketball, both games start with two opposing players meeting in the middle of field. This is a face-off in men’s lacrosse and a draw control in women’s lacrosse. This also happens after every goal. One major difference is that the men face-off on the ground and the women fight for the draw from a standing position.

According to Stahrr, taking the face-off or draw takes a lot of skill and, because of this, there are often face-off or draw specialists. Their jump is to take the draw, possibly help their team gain possession of the ball and then they get off the field as fast as possible. That’s why you’ll see one player come on for the face-off and then immediately sprint to the sidelines.

Syracuse’s Katelyn Mashewske recently earned national and conference honors for excelling in this position. Mashewske recorded back-to-back career games in the circle, winning a high of 12 faceoffs and then beating her own record with 13 three days later. Both performances propelled Syracuse to victories in a two-game series against Notre Dame.

Checking vs. Non-Checking

At the core, men’s and women’s lacrosse are similar games. One big distinction is that checking is allowed in the men’s game but is punishable by penalty in women’s lacrosse. Part of that could have to do with the history of the game, which was created by Native Americans.

“Originally, lacrosse was just played by men. The games were huge and played by hundreds of people,” said Stahrr. “The objective of both games is the exact same, except the men’s game is more aggressive. I think the women’s game was created with respect to the tradition of lacrosse and how Native Americans engage with the game.”

Hitting and aggressive play aren’t discouraged in the men’s game, but those actions are closely monitored. This seemingly violent style of play is why the men wear more protective equipment than the women.

In women’s lacrosse, body checks and stick checks to the player themselves are illegal. Because of this, usually the only players on the field with a helmet are the goalies. Field players can choose to wear additional protection, like Syracuse defenseman Kerry Defliese, who elects to wear a helmet during games.

Both games do allow stick checking, which just means that stick-to-stick contact with the purpose of knocking out the ball or interrupting a play are allowed.

NCAA Lacrosse: Albany at Syracuse
Albany's Dough Goldsmith (15) stick checks Syracuse attacker Griffin Cook (2). Hits and bumps like this with the stick are allowed in men's lacrosse but are strictly prohibited in the women's game.

Rules specific to the women’s game

Because the women wear less protective equipment, there are additional rules in place to protect the players from the ball, which is made of solid rubber. Lacrosse moves quickly, so catching these calls will be tough, but at least you’ll know why the referee blew the whistle.

There is a half-circle painted in front of the goal crease call the 8-meter. This marks the space where certain fouls that occur near the goal can be called to ensure the safety of the game. If a defender commits a foul in this space – referred to as a shooting space violation – the opposing team gets a free-position shot.

Similar to a penalty kick in soccer, the free position shot gives the team that was fouled an opportunity to set up a shot on goal. The player lines up on the 8-meter line and, when the whistle blows, they can either take the shot or pass it off to another player.

A three-second violation can be called on defenders who stay in the middle of the 8-meters. This happens when a defender is not within a stick’s length of an opposing player for more than three seconds. It creates a dangerous situation for a woman to get hit by a shot and the 3-second rule also leads to a free position shot.

Here is a compilation of what free position shots look like, featuring Syracuse's Nicole Levy from several seasons ago. The player that was fouled lines up with the ball on the 8-meter mark and, once the whistle blows, players converge to either attempt a scoring play or defend against a shot on goal.

One final rule to know is that the goalie can score in men’s lacrosse but not in the women’s game. It may seem weird that there’s a rule explicitly saying this, but it seems made for a player like Syracuse’s Asa Goldstock. She frequently leaves the crease to play to ball up field, sometimes venturing past the 50-yard-line. There’s a good chance Goldstock would take it all the way if given the opportunity.

NCAA Womens Lacrosse: Notre Dame at Syracuse
Syracuse Orange goalie Asa Goldstock (21) runs with the ball during a game. Goldstock's style of play is different than most goalies in that she plays the ball further down field, but this type of contribution is legal.

Lacrosse is a more complex sport than the basics listed above. But hopefully this can act as a springboard to a newfound interest in the game. Fans are now allowed back in the Dome after nearly a year, so why not try taking in a new sport?

“Find a team to follow,” said Stahrr. “I would tell anyone to follow Syracuse women or men, but there are other great programs out there too. Once you find a team you can be loyal to, then it’s easy to continually watch games.”