Syracuse against Johns Hopkins is the rivalry that has defined the sport of college lacrosse. They have met 50 times with 12 coming in the postseason and 5 in the National Championship game. The two schools that have won a combined 20 titles will meet again at the Carrier Dome on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
"Is there a little bit more juice for this game? Sure." Said Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala, "I have been involved in 25 games as a player and a coach and 13 of them have been decided by a goal so that tells you a lot about the rivalry."
"It's a big, emotional game that is great for college lacrosse," said Syracuse head coach John Desko. "To me it all goes back to the 1983 National Championship when we came back to beat them 17-16. That game put us on the map and every time we play Hopkins at some point before the game I think back to 1983."
While outsiders may notice the differences as far as style of play between the 2 teams the combatants focus on the similarities.
"These are the 2 most alike programs in all of college lacrosse," said Pietramala. "The expectations are always the same. The pressure on the head coach is always the same and the passion of the alumni and the fan base is always the same."
Desko agrees, "We are both teams that are built on winning championships. There is a ton of respect for each other."
Some expected a down year for the Orange in 2013 but after an overtime loss in the opener to Albany Syracuse has won 4 straight and is ranked 7th in the country. Pietramala is not surprised that Desko has his team back in the top 10.
"Look, it's Syracuse. Those kids go there to play at the highest level. You can't ever write them off, especially in February and March. We are facing a team that is just starting to find itself."
The Orange resurgence has been led by Jo Jo Marasco as the senior midfielder out of Yorktown Heights has 10 assists in the first 4 games.
"He is our go to guy, he understands the people that he is playing with and their strengths" said Desko. "We have to be extremely organized on defense because of him" said Pietramala, "They are constantly moving and constantly getting open and he is finding the open man."
Another key will be the face off game as Fayetteville-Manlius grad Mike Poppleton returns home to Central New York with an NCAA best 73.2 winning percentage.
"To be honest they recruited him a little bit harder as a midfielder than we did so I am sure he will be excited for this one."
From 1983-2009 either Johns Hopkins or Syracuse or both advanced to the final 4. Neither has made it to championship weekend in the 3 years since so the stakes will be high yet again on Saturday as the winner takes one step closer to Philadelphia.
"We don't need to say anything this week to motivate the kids" said Pietramala, "they don't need to be reminded what's on the line and that we are playing a quality opponent."