Syracuse lacrosse DC John Odierna on reunion with Manhattan: ‘I don’t know how to feel’

Syracuse Men's Lacrosse 2024: Syracuse vs Vermont

New defensive coordinator John Odierna. The Syracuse men’s lacrosse team open their season against Vermont at the JMA Wireless Dome Feb. 3, 2024. (Dennis Nett |

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Syracuse, N.Y. — John Odierna looked each player in the eye, knew their names and offered each a fist bump, quick hug or pleasant greeting.

The Syracuse University men’s lacrosse team had just completed practice at the Ensley Athletic Center and Manhattan, whom the Orange faces at the JMA Dome on Friday, were walking in to use the facility for practice itself.

It was an immediate reunion for Odierna, who spent eight seasons on the Jaspers coaching staff, including last season as head coach. He was named the 2023 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Coach of the Year.

He’s now the defensive coordinator for Syracuse, taking over for Dave Pietramala, who left for a similar position at North Carolina.

Manhattan allowed just eight goals per game last season, the best defensive scoring mark in college lacrosse since the NCAA implemented a shot clock in 2019.

There’s a lot of lacrosse to be played and the schedule is only going to get harder for the Orange. That noted, Odierna’s defense is allowing just 8.50 goals per game so far at Syracuse. caught up with Odierna for a one-on-one conversation to see how he is feeling ahead of the reunion with his old team and how the Orange is acclimating to his coaching style.

How are you feeling ahead of the reunion?

“It’s a really unique experience. I’ve had a few other coaches reach out. You’re definitely pulled in a few directions emotionally. It has a little more juice because it’s their first game of the year. The Jaspers haven’t been on a field since I was coaching them last year. It’s a unique feeling. I don’t know how to feel to be honest with you. After tomorrow, I’ll be the biggest Manhattan fan in the country. But I also want our guys to put their best foot forward and I’m coaching here now, so we need to play good lacrosse.”

Usually when you play a team in the first game they can be difficult to scout. It’s a little easier for you knowing this team. What’s that process been like?

“I think the first game of the year is always difficult to scout. I’m confident that the coaches over there are going to do some things differently. I don’t think they’ll change their identity for the game, but I’d imagine they’ll have some tricks up their sleeves. We’ve been trying to prepare like it’s any first game of the year. The familiarity comes from the personnel and tendencies. Getting to see a guy practice everyday. Big picture, we treat it like any other first game. We have no film. But in terms of personnel, we’ll try to give out guys some keys to success.”

How do you feel you left Manhattan a better program before deciding to come to Syracuse?

“When I first started I was the assistant with Drew Kelleher, who is now the head coach at UMass-Lowell. That was our whole goal. To establish a credible Division I lacrosse program. When got there, they were 1-14. Anything but that. We tried to create credibility in how we handled ourselves day-to-day and that turned into results of breaking records for wins, the second (conference) championship in program history. Last year we won the regular season and got to host the playoffs, which was a cool experience. I definitely think Manhattan Lacrosse is in the best spot it’s been in a long time.”

What are seeing from your Syracuse defense so far? How are they adjusting to your style?

“The guys have really embraced the style of play. Having a little bit of freedom to make plays and be aggressive. I think a lot of our mistakes are mistakes of aggression right now. That’s the best kind of mistake you can have. I think where we have to clean some things up is to process the game faster. I’m teaching us to be better decision-makers. The guys do have to make some decisions on their own. I think they are enjoying the freedom. I think it is fine-tuning when to make some decisions, when to do something else. I definitely saw that in the college game. I saw a lot of really good plays and then a lot of head-scratching plays. We’re just learning how to play together, especially being a younger group for the most part. On those aggression mistakes, I’d rather reel us in than try to get us to go play harder.”

What’s the dynamic been like with Gary Gait? He’s got someone in you on the staff that was just a head coach as well.

“It’s been awesome to work with a guy like Coach Gait everyday. It’s a dream come true. He’s a legend in the sport. Closest thing to a lacrosse celebrity there is. My role is, coming from Manhattan a mid-major program, is I have a completely different perspective. My job is to offer up sort of how the other half lives. Whether it’s give our guys a different perspective, talk about some of the challenges we face and how they can relate here. I appreciate that Coach Gait has allowed me to drive at the culture of the defensive unit and allow that to exist with the whole team.

“This word has come up a lot. I think there’s a lot of alignment. My approach is similar to his. We want to have a player-led organization. Now it’s just empowering the guys in my position group to hopefully impact the whole team through the same ideas.”

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Brent Axe

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