Chris Nanco eyes late-career push with scoreless streak put to rest
Tony D. Curtis | Staff Photographer
Chris Nanco sketched out a plan at the beginning of the season. Too often, the senior forward admitted, his long run had ended in years prior with near misses and gasps from the disappointed crowd.
When attacking the goal, he adopted a new mentality. He’d keep an end result — the ball going through the net — at the forefront of his mind. He increased one-on-one work with Syracuse assistant coach Matt Verni to improve his finishing ability.
The senior forward burst to a hot start this season, scoring four goals in the team’s first three games. But until his two-goal outing last week against Pittsburgh, he had been held off the scoreboard, getting no goals since Sept. 9 and no assists since Sept. 16. It had been 55 days since Nanco last found the back of the net, a span covering eight weeks, 11 games and Syracuse’s longest winless streak in five years. Nanco’s scoreless drought was the longest of his career at Syracuse — and his life.
“Keep taking shots,” Nanco said last week. “One of them will go in.”
One finally did go in, and then another, giving No. 7 Syracuse (11-3-4, 3-2-3 Atlantic Coast) a new facet to its scoring attack. Over the last four years, the Orange is 16-0 in games Nanco scores. As Syracuse awaits its NCAA tournament seeding, he looks to make an end-of-career push. His next game could be his last at SU.
Drifting toward midfield, Nanco is adept at beating defenders to open spots. His long runs up the sidelines set the offense in motion, sucking defenders his way. Asked about Syracuse’s main threat, most opponent coaches mention him before anyone else. Bobby Muuss, the head coach of No. 2 Wake Forest, singled him out, saying he’s “dangerous.”
Tony D. Curtis | Staff Photographer
Even in games Nanco doesn’t score, defenders drop back or leave their men to stop him, as was the case against Pittsburgh. Jonathan Hagman benefited from a defense keyed-in on Nanco, as the sophomore followed up Nanco’s two goals with two of his own.
“Chris’ contribution to the team without scoring goals has been massive,” Syracuse head coach Ian McIntyre said. “I would worry if we weren’t getting that other contribution.”
Nanco’s scoring efficiency had gone down since each season from his freshman to junior year. This season (11.8 percent), he’s improved on last year’s mark of just 5.8 percent. He had four goals last year but took 69 shots to do it. In his freshman year, he took only 21 shots to score four times, a success rate of 19 percent.
His 44 shots placed him fourth in the conference entering last weekend. He had played almost every minute of every game until he left the ACC quarterfinal against Clemson in the first half after sustaining what appeared to be a minor injury to his left leg.
While he shrugged off his scoring drought, he acknowledged Syracuse needs him to score to be at its best. He’s Syracuse’s leading active scorer, with 19 goals, and is second on the team only to senior midfielder Oyvind Alseth in games started, with 79.
Nanco challenges himself in practice against Kamal Miller, one of Syracuse’s biggest defenders. Jockeying for position and weaving his way against bigger bodies has comprised much of the 5-foot-6, 145-pounder’s career.
“Balls hitting the back of the net,” McIntyre said last Monday, “we’re going to take that and put it on Wednesday night. And then we’ll be good to go.”
Nanco provided a fresh reminder of how many ways he can influence a game last Wednesday, scoring twice and luring defenders his way. His plan from the start of the year is working again. His career could end with one more loss. But when he scores, Syracuse doesn’t lose.
Published on November 7, 2016 at 9:26 pm