April 29, 2011

Division I Notebook: Syracuse's Palasek Becomes Unexpectedly Valuable

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine

Syracuse head coach John Desko wasn't sure if Tommy Palasek would even step on the field this season for the Orange, but the Hopkins transfer has proven to a huge pick-up for contenders.
© Jim O'Connor

Syracuse men's lacrosse head coach John Desko fully expected junior attackman Tommy Palasek to be watching the 2011 season as a red-shirt. Since Palasek did not officially land on the upstate New York campus until January 10 after being cleared to transfer from Johns Hopkins, Desko figured he would be too far behind the adjustment and learning curves to have a realistic chance at contributing to the Orange on game days this spring.

But Palasek made it perfectly clear he intended to play a hard game of catch-up and get on the field right away, and within weeks he had forced himself onto the depth chart as a fourth attackman. With the midseason knee injury that has kept red-shirt junior attackman Tim Desko sidelined for the past four games and threatens to keep him on the shelf indefinitely, Palasek has become unexpectedly valuable.

After producing a career-high six points (three goals, three assists) in last week's 12-2 trouncing of Rutgers, Palasek will take a crack at one of the elite defenses in Division I in top-ranked, undefeated Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish bring their 10-0 record to the Carrier Dome on Saturday night.

"I'm feeling pretty comfortable. Having the chance to start with JoJo [Marasco] and Stephen [Keogh] definitely has helped my chemistry with them," said Palasek, who has typified the unselfishness in the Syracuse offense with 12 goals and 12 assists, while getting his early-season turnover problems under control.

"We've been clicking the last two games. We've been more efficient. We're moving the ball more. Usually when our offense isn't doing its job, guys are standing around too much waiting for something to happen. We're doing that a lot less now."

Palasek will start his fifth straight game for the Orange, which are waiting for Tim Desko – the son of the head coach – to re-emerge. After suffering his injury in a 13-11 win over Duke on April 3, then re-aggravating his knee problem a week later in a 7-5 win at Princeton, Desko (16 goals) developed an infection, which is being treated with medication.

"It's taken a lot longer than we thought it would [to heal]. It's frustrating as a coach and a parent," said John Desko, who is as pleased as anyone with Palasek's progress. "There was a lot for him to pick up. He had to learn all of our offenses, our rides, man-up, fast breaks. I thought he would just come in, learn our system, then red-shirt and have two years to start. But now Timmy is a starter, and he's gotten better every week."

Bison Winning the Close Ones

Bucknell knows all about close games. And to a great extent, the success of the 2011 Bison comes down how well the team has handled itself in the nail-biters it still tends to play.

Last spring, the Bison finished 8-6 because they could not close. Bucknell lost five games by one goal, including three in overtime. Once Army beat the Bison to win the Patriot League tournament, those one-goal affairs came back to haunt Bucknell, which got knocked out of the NCAA tournament.

Not this time around. While marching to a 12-2, regular-season record and earning the no. 1 seed and hosting role in this weekend's conference tournament, Bucknell is 4-0 in one-goal decisions. And after concluding the regular season by pouring on 12 goals apiece at Lehigh and Colgate, the Bison are a pretty confident group.

"We committed ourselves in the offseason to being mentally and physically tougher. We really worked on our conditioning in the fall," said coach Frank Fedorjaka, who has the Bison off to the best record of his six years at the helm.

"We were always playing hard, but we just weren't able to finish games off. We were so good at finding little ways to lose," he added. "We scrimmaged every day in the fall, and every time we had a mental breakdown we stopped practice. We really put a lot of time into what we do when we get tired. We have found a happy medium. Fly around and be aggressive, but know when to slow down and be smart."

Buckell, which is ranked ninth in RPI and also has wins over Villanova and Army, has an outside shot at hosting a first-round NCAA tournament game – that is, if the Bison take care of business this weekend.

Loyola Hoping to Snap Skid

Loyola has not beaten Johns Hopkins since Dave Cottle coached at Evergreen in 1999. Back then, Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala was rebuilding the program at Cornell.

Sixth-year coach Charley Toomey will take another crack at Hopkins, which presents the toughest Blue Jays defense the Greyhounds have faced since 2005. The battle between Loyola's John Schiavone and Hopkins' Matt Dolente at the faceoff circle should be a treat.

But Loyola will be hard-pressed to neutralize a very strong Hopkins attack, which has thrived with the emergence of hard-dodging midfielders such as John Ranagan and Lee Coppersmith.

The Hopkins attack has challenged goalies consistently and impressively. Senior Chris Boland has a team-high 26 goals and shoots 42.6 percent. Sophomore Zach Palmer has a team-high 21 assists and shoots 51.5 percent. Senior sharpshooter Kyle Wharton (22 goals) shoots just 27.5 percent, but how many shooters intimidate as much as the Hopkins lefty?

Together, the three attackman put 62.1 of their shots on goal.


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