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Orange Sports

At Syracuse, the Streak Is a Proud Burden

Posted Friday, May 13, 2005 by John Desko

SYRACUSE, May 12 - Jarrett Park grew up in this area and remembers seeing Syracuse University lacrosse T-shirts that read, "Death, taxes and the Final Four." At 22, Park is as old as Syracuse's streak of reaching the Final Four of the N.C.A.A. tournament.

Now, however, he is a senior midfielder for an Orange team that sees that run of success in peril.

Syracuse (7-5) must win at Massachusetts (12-2) on Sunday and then win a probable matchup in the second round with top-seeded Johns Hopkins (12-0) on May 21 to advance to the Final Four.

Those long odds will clash with Syracuse's swagger, an attitude 22 years in the making that has left the Orange relishing the challenge.

"I almost laughed when the selection show came on, because the road that we have to go is awesome," Park said. "It's my senior year. I wouldn't want it any other way."

It is fitting that the streak rests at 22, as the number has become synonymous with the free-flowing style that has made Syracuse the flagship program in college lacrosse. It was Gary Gait's number when he and his twin brother, Paul, led the program to its third consecutive national title in 1990. Back then, Gait said in a telephone interview Tuesday, the Final Four streak was never a consideration.

"We only talked about the national titles, that's the only thing that we talked about at that point," Gait said.

Syracuse has a storied lacrosse tradition, dating to the mid-1950's and the days of Jim Brown, who is a member of the N.F.L. and National Lacrosse Halls of Fame. But it took the flair, behind-the-back passes and trick plays of the Gait brothers to usher the sport into the mainstream, as Syracuse's up-tempo style helped modernize the game. Gary's "Air Gait" play in the 1988 national semifinal game, when he flew in from behind the goal and essentially dunked the ball with his stick, remains one of lacrosse's signature plays.

The game's popularity has led to more parity, and that development is the biggest threat to Syracuse's streak. There are more great players from more places now, as athletes from states like Texas, California and Washington are popping up on rosters that have traditionally been dominated by athletes from Long Island and Maryland.

Through all that time and evolution, a No. 22 has led Syracuse. Gait's number was passed to Charlie Lockwood from 1991 to 1994, and from him, it was passed through three Powell brothers, Casey, Ryan and Mike, from 1995 to 2004. Lockwood and the Powell brothers each earned all-American honors in all four of years at Syracuse.

Last season, Mike Powell led the Orange to the national title and left as the career scoring leader with 307 points. To get there, he had to pass his brothers, who are tied for second at 287.

Just as the game has changed, so has the Syracuse players' view of the streak.

"Going into the postseason as a Syracuse lacrosse player, you're not just playing for yourself and your team," Mike Powell said in a telephone interview. "You're playing for history and for the alumni. I was lucky enough to squeeze in four Final Fours, and I can't tell you how relieved I was."

Coach John Desko, the coach since 1999 after becoming an assistant in 1980, said he rarely brought up the streak with his team. He focuses every season on winning the national title. Syracuse has done that nine times, including three under Desko and six under the Hall of Fame coach Roy Simmons Jr.

But amid a rash of injuries and a down year for the program, Desko said he was more aware of the streak.

"When you have a year like we're having, you tend to appreciate it more," he said. "You appreciate the success and the history and the tradition."

Whenever the streak ends, be it this weekend or in 20 years, it should have a firm place as one of the great runs of dominance in N.C.A.A. history.

"It's one of the most amazing streaks there's been in college sports," Princeton Coach Bill Tierney said. "It's mind-boggling when you think about it."

The men's basketball coach at Syracuse, Jim Boeheim, regularly attends Orange lacrosse games. "I don't know if there's a better streak in Division I," he said. "To me, it's just been amazing that they've been that consistent."

The players are confident that they will continue the streak, but they rarely talk about it. It comes up more often in calls from alumni after losses than it does among the players in their dorm rooms. After all, there is one certainty that runs through the program.

"No one," Park said, "wants to be on the team that ends the streak."

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