October 15, 2012

30 in 30: Can No. 22 Lead Syracuse to Final Four?

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

JoJo Marasco worked on his game this offseason by playing box games in Canada and getting in prime physical shape. "I've gone out of my way to make myself the best player I can be," he said.
© Greg Wall

While the lacrosse landscape's chatter concentrates on a certain left-handed attackman from New York who might end up at Syracuse — again, this is nothing more than speculation for North Carolina transfer Nicky Galasso's destination — LaxMagazine.com caught up with another left-hander from the Empire State who already plays for the Orange: JoJo Marasco.

Syracuse played its annual Orange Alumni Classic on Saturday in the Carrier Dome, and though Marasco was held scoreless, the caretaker for iconic No. 22 figures to be the focal point of the team's offense.

LaxMagazine.com's interview touched on Deuces, Syracuse's progress in the fall, the impact of the new rules, Marasco's summer spent playing box lacrosse and expectations for Marasco's senior season. (On Monday, Marasco was announced as one of five Syracuse captains.)

Can Marasco lead Syracuse back to the final four? The transcript...

How have things gone in the fall?
It's been a pretty good experience so far. We've been playing for a couple weeks now, and the team looks good. We return a lot of players, especially on our defense, so we're pretty pumped about that. We've been working on a lot of things with the new rules. The game is always looking forward, and I think it's going to be a lot more exciting with all these new sideline rules, balls behind the net, the shot clock. We're all pretty excited about that, and we've been working well with them. Learning the new rules each day has been somewhat difficult, but the coaches are working really hard and putting together some great drills for us.

What have you seen as the biggest impact of the new rules? We all know how Syracuse wants to play.
For the past couple years, we've been playing against a lot of teams who took the air out of the ball against us. There was a lot of stalling, stall calls. It's a great feeling when we step out in practice, especially when we do scrimmages, to pick up the ball right when it goes out of bounds and right away go with the quick whistles. The game feels so much faster. It feels like how lacrosse is supposed to be played, and how it was before. It's exciting.

So you've noticed a visible difference in the play?
The tempo and the speed have definitely changed. If you make the wrong mistake, and some of these middies don't want to get back and play defense, you can have a fast break on almost every clear. You've got to be a lot smarter about it. We're definitely going to have to watch a lot more film on each team, because they're going to have a lot of different plays on the clears, just from the sheer number of 6-on-5 and 5-on-4 opportunities you will get with turnovers, and you're able to pick it up and go. You're going to see more highlight goals, and that's something I'm looking forward to seeing.

What's been the focus this fall offensively, aside from the rules stuff? You lose three of your top six scorers in Tommy Palasek, Tim Desko and Bobby Eilers.
Those seniors last year were great for us, and they stepped up as seniors and scored some big points. But we return some guys who were real young last year as freshmen, like Hakeem Lecky and Henry Schoonmaker. They've come back in even better shape, knowing the game and being even smarter. They're going to step up in the midfield. Attack-wise, we've got some guys coming back too. Kevin Rice saw the field last year, and Billy Ward is a guy who works harder than anyone on the field. He's playing really well so far. We've got some guys who are making strides and filling the spots, trying to help out Derek Maltz as much as possible, because he's one of the best finishers in the game. We're working real well, and the coaches are working hard with us, just trying to get these guys comfortable playing new positions.

Has anyone specifically stood out to you?
Luke Cometti has really stepped up as a senior. He transferred from Albany, and last year he was hurt all fall, so it was tough for him to get into the mold. He had some big goals for us last year toward the end of the season, but I really think he's going to have a breakout year. He's working so hard. He's stepping up as a leader.

Also Derek Maltz. The guy is unbelievable with his hands. He knows the game so well. And he has been stepping up big-time.

Mikey Daniello is looking great this fall. He's coming from a different school, so it's going to take some time for him to get used to it. But he fits real well in this Syracuse offense. He's a good dodger. He's really working on his right hand. He can get up top lefty, he can shoot the ball, and he's smart. He's been fun to watch.

So there's a lot of weapons to replace the departed seniors?
Absolutely. This year, midfield-wise, we have a lot of speed, which is really going to help us with these new rules. We have some finishers on attack now who are pretty crafty and pretty smart with the ball too. I'm excited about that. I don't really see it being a big problem, especially with our defense, with the way we basically return everyone. Their such a powerhouse, that it'll be helpful for our offense.

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You're mostly running with the midfield at this point? Did you expect to bump down to attack?
Yeah, I've been running midfield so far this fall. I've always been a guy who will try to step up and play wherever the coaches want to put me, and when I get out on the field I'll do my best. I definitely thought I was going to see some time at attack, being a senior and having played there as a sophomore. But it's going well. The coaches have their game plan, and I'm trying to follow what they want. Right now I'm playing mostly midfield. I played there all last year too, so I'm starting to get the hang of it. I pride myself on knowing every part of the game, know the game as well as I can.

I'm learning more and more things as a midfielder now that I didn't know last year. Each year, you pick up on little things, just from watching game tape or watching other players play. I've learned a lot. I'm just trying to work as much as I can to learn more with coach Desko and coach Donahue.

What are those little things you've learned?
The game has changed so much now. All of last year, I had the pole covering me most of the games. Now, teams have these crazy slide packages, where they are sliding so early. I'm trying to be smarter with moving the ball behind, working on my re-dodges, and following the ball if one of the other middies I'm working with is dodging. Running the offense as much as I can.

I also learned a lot playing box lacrosse this summer, learning when is the right time to make the cut on dodges, and looking for feeds.

Even if you spend a lot of time out top, you'll also invert and go behind?
The coaches definitely feel comfortable with me going behind. Playing since freshman year, I've gotten to learn the offenses from behind and up top. I feel comfortable in both places. They definitely know that I really enjoy being behind, and they've been working on some inverts for me. We've been doing that for the past three years, and it has been successful. So I'm going to keep working on that, as well as my dodging and my feeding.

Your most preferred role is to be behind? That's where you're most comfortable?
I played all through high school behind, and I've gotten the chance to play behind some at Syracuse. It's nice being there, running the offense, and seeing where everyone is on the field. But I'm also really starting to like dodging from the wing, and it's feeling a lot more comfortable now.

You played Junior A box lacrosse this summer for the Toronto Beaches? How did you get involved in that?
Since freshman year, it has always been an idea. Canada is only about two-and-a-half hours from Syracuse. So it had always been an idea to spend a summer there. You hear all these stories about Canadians playing box lacrosse, and how much it has made their game improve. The same thing with Americans who got an opportunity to play up there, they came back and the next year had success. It had always been in my head since freshman year, but it just didn't work out until my junior year summer.

I was lucky enough to be taking a biology course up in Syracuse for the summer. I got in touch with Regy Thorpe and Gary Gait, and they helped me get in touch with Toronto. I can't say enough about that organization. They were so nice to me, and I had a great experience. I had a great opportunity to improve my game, and I got to play some of the best box players this summer.

More specifically, what'd you learn from the experience?
Merrick Thomson was the offensive coach for me, and he had such a great career at Albany and in box. He kind of took me in stride, and he used my athletic ability in the box. He helped me a lot with how to set a pick, and rolling off the pick. It helps you so much. Everything is so close, and so in tight, that you've got to have those soft hands. You've got to be smart with the ball. That helped me get the ball out of my stick faster, and play a lot smarter by understanding what's around you on the field. Also, it has helped me with my in-close shooting. When you're shooting on that little net with that big goalie, it helps you become a little craftier.

Did you get this idea from anyone in particular?
The whole idea first came from talking to Joel White and Tommy Guadagnolo, who went up and played in Canada after my freshman year at Syracuse. They played for Six Nations. I could even tell, from freshman year to sophomore year, how much their stick skills became. They became smarter on the field, and more well-rounded players. I wanted to get the same opportunity and take advantage of it. So those guys spoke to me about it. They said, 'It's definitely going to help your game.' And I've already seen improvements.

You traveled up there on the weekends then?
I was taking biology at Syracuse, so I ended up driving up to Toronto every weekend and playing three games. I had a great experience up there. They had a place for me to stay. It was a great opportunity to get out of Syracuse for a little bit and play some lacrosse, which I love to do. I can't say enough. The organization and the people at Toronto were amazing.

Keeper of the 22

Syracuse legends through the years

Gary Gait (1988-90)
Charlie Lockwood (1991-94)
Casey Powell (1995-98)
Ryan Powell (1999-2000)
Mikey Powell (2001-04)
Dan Hardy (2006-09)
Cody Jamieson (2010)
JoJo Marasco (2011-13)

What was the craziest place you played?
Playing in those barns, as they basically call them, or arenas, it's so hot in them. It's definitely a different level of lacrosse. The craziest one was playing in Six Nations. Their fans are so loyal. They had the most fans at the game, and they were so talented this year. To see their level of skill was amazing. You hear about these big-name guys playing up there, and to get a chance to play against them was pretty cool.

What goals have you set for yourself, individually and as a team?
The biggest thing in my head since freshman year: a national championship. I've been here three years now, and we've had three disappointing losses in the playoffs. My one goal is to get to the final four. That's got to be a big goal for us as seniors. It always has been, and it would mean a lot for the Syracuse community and everyone who takes pride in cheering for us and supporting us. Hopefully we could pull out a national championship. That would be huge, for my senior year.

Individually, I want to cut down on my turnovers. I want to become a smarter player. I want to do whatever I can for the team. I want to be a big player for Syracuse. I want to have big goals in big games.

Have you set any goals for yourself as far as points, goals or assists?
You always have those. But you keep those to yourself. Honestly, right now, I just want to step up in big moments to score that goal, or make that pass when the team needs it. I want to be part of that answer on the field. I want to be that guy the coaches trust in key moments. I want to step up when my team needs me.

If this senior class doesn't reach the final four, it'll be the first time that has happened for a group since 1979. And if it doesn't win a national title, it'll be the first time since 1999. Does that eat at you and motivate you?
Definitely. We have some guys who have been through it all, who have really fought. I haven't seen a group of guys who has worked harder. We've had a great opportunity the past couple years to make it to the final four, and in a couple cases one-goal games just didn't go our way. To have one more opportunity, I'm pretty lucky to have that. We've been working so hard so far. I definitely see us being there. We need to have the mindset that we deserve to be there. We have the opportunity to do it.

Wearing No. 22 and carrying on its legacy, does that have a weightier importance now that you're a senior?
Definitely. You take that on when you have the opportunity to wear the jersey. It has been a great experience for me. It's a very difficult task. But I definitely feel the weight that I need to become an even better player this year, and that's why I've gone out of my way to make myself the best player I can be, by playing box lacrosse in Canada and doing whatever I can in the weight room, and getting into the best shape I could.

Wearing 22 is a lot of pressure. But you've got to put that to the side and play your game, and be the guy who got you to Syracuse every time you step on the field.

How do you do that?
It's mental. I have some real close people that I speak to every night before games. They've been there with me through thick and thin, getting me through wearing 22 and playing at Syracuse, and getting an opportunity to play on the same field as all these great players, like Mikey Powell and Gary Gait. They've always been there to talk to me and help me out.

When you step on the field, all you have to worry about is the game plan you came in with, with the coaches, and your style of play. All you can do is just play your game. That's all I've been doing, and it's worked out pretty well so far.

Who do you talk to before games?
The biggest one is definitely Paul Carcaterra. He has been my trainer since I first started playing lacrosse. He played at Syracuse, so he's an alumnus. He has been so good to me throughout my life and career. He's kind of like an older brother or father figure to me. I always speak to him before games, get my game plan set on how I want to play when I step on the field, put everything otherwise out of my head.

I always speak to my parents too. They know me better than anyone. They help calm me down before the game.

And one other guy, he's been one of my best friends since I was younger, P.K. Kim. He's been a great guy to me, and a very close friend.
I can't say enough about that core group of four people. They've been so amazing to me. If it wasn't for them, I don't think I would be where I am today. They've helped me so much throughout my career. I'm thankful they'll be here for my senior year.

In an ideal world, if we were to talk in May, what would we be talking up?
Hopefully I'd be holding up the national championship trophy with my teammates, and we'd be talking about giving back to the Syracuse community, because I couldn't be a happier person.


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