MLAX : Ianzito completes seamless transition to defensive midfield
Steve Ianzito was exhausted. He had never played this much in any game during his first two seasons at Syracuse. Cornell won faceoff after faceoff, earning possession throughout the night, and Ianzito was on the field for nearly the entire game trying to stop the Big Red.
One year ago, he would have been standing on the sidelines. This season, his new spot at defensive midfield has given him ample opportunities to see the field. At a time when the Orange is struggling to earn and keep possessions, Ianzito’s work is even more important.
‘I didn’t expect us to be playing that much defense during that game, so I have to continue to get better,’ Ianzito said. ‘If we’re going to see more games like that, you never know, I could be on the field a fourth of the time, or like Cornell, three-fourths of the time, you never know.’
Ianzito’s playing time took a hit this year when head coach John Desko began using two four-man midfield lines, rotating players in and out. With his minutes on the field decreasing, Ianzito became frustrated and his coaches could see it, but they had the perfect solution. They took advantage of his size and switched him to defensive midfield. Ever since, he’s been getting better every game.
Ianzito will get another chance to improve when Syracuse (6-5, 3-1 Big East) takes on struggling Hobart (3-7, 1-3 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference) Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Geneva.
Ianzito’s size has always been an asset for Syracuse, one of the reasons he was recruited by the Orange in the first place. A safety and quarterback in high school, his 6-foot-1 frame gives Syracuse some added strength at both ends of the field.
Moving him exclusively to defense is a way to utilize his size more effectively.
‘We’ve noticed it since he was a freshman, he’s very solid defensively,’ Desko said. ‘He’s a 6-foot-1 athlete, tough kid, he played football in high school, he competes, he has the personality for that position.’
Ianzito played his first game at defensive midfield on a grand stage, when the Orange went down to Charlottesville, Va., to play then-No. 1 Virginia on March 4. From the opening faceoff, Ianzito was on the field for seemingly all four quarters. The Cavaliers won 20-of-28 faceoffs in that game, keeping SU’s defense on the field.
The switch forced Ianzito to lose about 10 to 15 pounds to be quicker in defending midfielders who are often smaller and faster. He has also been taking yoga classes to improve his flexibility on the field.
Ianzito said his matchups against players like 5-foot-9 Johns Hopkins midfielder Rob Guida showed how critical speed can be.
‘I’m a fast guy, but I don’t have the quickest speed, so it’s hard to go around people sometimes,’ Ianzito said. ‘To be on defense, you have to dictate where you want the offensive player to go. You have to have speed to do that.’
With his speed improved, Ianzito’s still working on scoring in transition. He has spent his previous two years looking for scoring opportunities in settled situations, which Ianzito said he’s much more comfortable with.
Fellow defensive midfielder Kevin Drew is perhaps the fastest player on SU and one of the fastest in the Big East. He is also one of the best at scoring transition goals. Drew said learning to score in unsettled situations is something that’s perfected over time, especially when it comes to understanding when it’s the right time to take a shot.
If he takes a bad shot too quickly, Syracuse loses possession and Ianzito is right back on defense.
‘Just going in transition is totally different than dodging middies. You’ve just got to be in the right place, cut,’ Drew said. ‘And a lot of it, too, is we’re trying to settle the ball down, get some possessions on offense, so sometimes it’s not the right time to go, sometimes it is the right time to go.’
The switch solved two problems. Ianzito’s playing time increased, and the Orange now has a strong, quick defensive midfielder to stifle opposing scorers.
It’s worked so far, and Ianzito’s not longing for his old spot.
‘I’m always on the field. I can always make opportunities out of something when I’m bringing the ball up,’ Ianzito said. ‘It’s exciting. It’s a new role, and I love the challenge.’
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