Men's lacrosse: Orange benefits from Onondaga Community College transfers

When SU opens against Siena on Feb. 7, a pair of new faces from the JUCO powerhouse will be aiding the team in its quest for another championship.

The No. 4 Syracuse men’s lacrosse team will add two players who dominated the junior college ranks to its team this year.        

Midfielder Tim Barber and goalkeeper Warren Hill are just the latest to join a long list of players who have transferred from Onondaga Community College to play for the Orange.

“Most of the kids that go there... you talk to the kids on that roster and if you ask them their dream school, most kids are dreaming of Syracuse.”
— Tim Barber

The success and location of the OCC program, along with the relationship between OCC head coach Chuck Wilbur and Syracuse head coach John Desko, has allowed Syracuse to become a landing spot for some of OCC’s most talented players.

“I think it’s our locale in being so close, our relationship I have with the coaches out there, our tradition of sending kids there and being successful there and then obviously on top of it all, growing up it’s every kid's dream to play at a Syracuse-type program,” Wilbur said. “Obviously that carries a lot of weight.”

OCC players didn’t regularly start transferring to Syracuse until 2007, when Cody Jamieson decided to leave OCC after leading the team to its first two national championships. Jamieson would go on to be selected with the first pick in the Major League Lacrosse draft after helping Syracuse win a national championship in 2009.

From that point on, OCC has asserted itself as the dominant JUCO lacrosse program in the country, winning the last six national championships and eight of the last nine overall.

According to Wilbur, he and the Syracuse coaches are continually chatting about who represents OCC’s blue-chip talent.

Wilbur said that about 75 percent of his roster goes on to play at either the Division-I or high-end Division-II level. This allows for intense, competitive practices throughout the week, according to Wilbur. Wilbur said the practices, along with playing in pressure situations, help prepare his players for environments like Syracuse.

“Just to play in the big games and having the pressure of being successful day in and day out, you’ll get that from here,” Wilbur said. “You will get that experience. So when you go to Syracuse and you are playing those big games, you have been through it before.”

But why do players with so much talent wind up at OCC for the first two years of their careers?

In an area that has an abundance of high-level high school talent and one of the best lacrosse programs in the country, young players realize playing opportunities will probably be scarce early on at Syracuse.

At OCC, players can get coaching from a proven winner while playing a prominent role in important games for their team week in and week out. For the players not offered scholarships, they can go to OCC for about $6,000 instead of Syracuse for upwards of $30,000 according to Wilbur's estimation.

Also, with the established relationship between Wilbur and Desko and the close location of the schools, players see it as a great opportunity to eventually transfer.

“Most of the kids that go there... you talk to the kids on that roster and if you ask them their dream school, most kids are dreaming of Syracuse,” Barber said. “I mean, if you come to upstate New York that’s the best community college to get a look at with Syracuse.”

As the pipeline has continually developed, it has allowed transfers an easier transition thanks to the guidance of teammates that have already transferred. Additionally, many players grew up in the same communities and have developed friendships dating back to their childhoods.

Hill had recent OCC transfer Randy Staats in his ear throughout last year convincing him to transfer, he said. Barber also went to middle and high school with Syracuse senior co-captain Dylan Donahue.

“Best friends,” Barber said of Donahue. “Being on the field with him again is a great feeling. And I play with most of these guys in summer league and stuff. So I know all of these guys.”

Although both Barber and Hill dominated at OCC, it will take time for the former JUCO All-Americans to establish roles on the team.

Barber will not start, but should be in the midfield rotation and looked impressive in a scrimmage against Le Moyne with two goals and an assist. Hill will likely back up senior goalie Bobby Wardwell, but said he would be ready at any time.

“If Bobby’s starter, that’s great. I will still support him and stuff like that,” Hill said. “At the same time, I’m going to learn off him and continue to try to get better. Things aren’t always perfect as we know, and I got to be ready in case I get the call to go in.”

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