The Inside Lacrosse/Cascade poll bumped the 'Cuse up three spots from 11th to eighth, while the IWLCA Coaches poll pushed them up from 12th to seventh. SU also bumped up a couple of notches in RPI and are now fifth (yeah, I'm well aware of how people feel on this site about RPI).
That sets the stage for another important game against No. 11/12 Cornell (10th in RPI) tonight in the Dome. The Big Red is currently 10-2 overall and 5-0 in the Ivy League, which should send three teams to the NCAAs this year. Offensively, they are averaging 13 goals per game. They feature a strong defensive team that is fifth in the country in goals allowed at just eight per game. The Orange are also averaging 13 goals a game, while giving up around 11.
Cornell is an experienced team laden with seniors anchored by attacker/midfielder Amie Dickson who has 48 points (23 g, 25 a) and 22 draw controls as well as attacker Catherine Ellis who has 40 points (28g, 12 a). They are backed up by sophomore attacker Sarah Phillips who has 34 points (22g, 12 a), senior midfielder Kristy Gilbert with 24 points (18 g, 6 a) and 12 caused turnovers as well as junior midfielder Taylor Reed who has 23 points (19 g, 4 a) and 24 draw controls.
Cornell scores on 42.4% of their shots (compared to SU's 39.5%), and both teams have roughly the same amount of shots per game (32 for SU, 30 for CU). The Big Red have a better time hitting free position shots (women's lacrosse's version of penalty shots that has no comparability in the men's game), scoring on 50% of their attempts (12th in the country). This is an area where SU has struggled a bit this season, scoring on only 39% of their attempts.
A good part of their stingy defense is their senior goalkeeper Renee Poullott, who has a 50% save rate, good for 11th in the country. She is backed up by a defensive corps led by senior Catie Smith, who has 25 caused turnovers and 28 draw controls as well as junior Cait Callahan with 12 caused turnovers.
Yellow cards (in women's lacrosse, this results in a man-down situation for two minutes or usually until the other team scores): Cornell has 14 yellow cards this season, or a little over one per game. As with last year, fouls in general and yellow cards in particular have been a problem for the Orange. This year, SU has 32 yellow cards in 16 games (10th in the country) or two per game.
Syracuse leads the series 15-5 and won last year's game at Cornell 9-7, jumping out to an early 4-0 lead and holding the Big Red at arms length for the rest of the contest. The last time Cornell won was in 2006 by a score of 9-4. The Big Red have never beaten a Gary Gait-coached SU team (Gait started in 2008).
Cornell has had decent teams in the past, but it's only in the last two years that Big Red coach Jenny Graap (20th year at Cornell) has built them into an NCAA Tournament squad. Last year, Cornell finished third in their conference, and won the Ivy League Tournament, upsetting both no. 2-seed Penn and top-seeded Princeton to get the automatic qualifier, and an eight-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They beat Canisius in the first Round of the NCAA Tournament before being upset by UMass in the second round to finish the season at 14-5.
SU and Cornell have both beaten Binghamton this year, with SU and Cornell winning 16-5 and 17-3 respectively. Both teams have also faced Albany, who came close to upsetting the Orange before falling 13-12. The Great Danes are responsible for dropping Cornell out of the top 10 with a big 11-10 win over the Big Red last Tuesday.
I'll be honest, this game really is too close to call and I don't think history has much bearing on current circumstances. In years past, I would have put this game in the "likely win" category for the Orange. However, Cornell has knocked off two current top 10 opponents this year in USC (11-10) and Penn (10-4). SU looked great against North Carolina, but they've struggled for the better part of the season. However, I also think that Syracuse has a better strength of schedule than the Big Red.
Morgan Widner will be a big key to Orange success at the draw circle. The freshman is 3rd in the country with 8.25 a game and Syracuse took advantage of that on Saturday with a lot of possession time and scores.
Cornell's defense is very good, allowing double digit scores in only four games this year, but the Orange have seven players with 20 or more points this season. Riley Donahue remains at the top of the list with 47 points (29 g, 18 a), while Emily Hawryschuk is tied for second with Nicole Levy (who was injured in the Loyola game and has not returned yet) with 36 points (31 g, 5 a).
Mary Rahal has 29 points (23 g, 6 a), followed by Devon Parker (19 g, 6 a) and Alie Jimerson (17 g, 8 a) with 25 points each. Hawryschuk has had big performances this year and currently leads the team in goals scored. A similar performance against the Big Red will help SU's chances considerably.
The Orange defense has been shaky for long stretches this year but they looked good against a strong North Carolina attack. If they have a comparable game, Cornell could be in trouble. Conversely, Syracuse really has to limit their unforced turnovers. They have had some silly mistakes with dropped passes and poor stick handling that have cost them on possessions and clears. However, SU has a lot of potential scorers, so the Big Red might have some trouble focusing on the threats.
The NCAA Tournament in women's lacrosse fields 26 teams (this could change next year, more on that in a future article), with eight seeds who have the home field advantage in the first and second rounds (seventh and eighth seeds play in the first round, the lower seeds have a bye). An Orange win would keep them in the top 10, perhaps pick up another spot going into the ACC Tournament next weekend. A deep run here or winning the tournament would most likely give them a good seed in the NCAAT.
If Cornell wins, they'll most likely move back into the top 10 with the same situation. The Orange would almost certainly move out of the top 10 and have to do well in the ACCT to get an NCAA seed. The top 10 field is very tight this year, so there's not much room for error.
Ultimately, I think it will really depend on what Orange team shows up to play. If it's the team that played North Carolina, I think they have a good chance to win. If they played like they did in the middle of the year, this could be a long night.