Despite the regular season finale loss to Louisville on Saturday, the Syracuse Orange are still in the running for one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse took the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament after sporting a 5-2 conference record (13-5 overall) and will face no. 7-seeded Virginia Tech (11-7 overall, 2-5 ACC) in the first round on Thursday at 5 p.m. ET.
As a team, the Hokies are averaging around 29 shots and 13 goals a game compared to SU's 32 shots and 12-13 goals a game. They have also seen a lot of success in free position attempts, scoring on almost 55% for the year. Conversely, this is an area where the Orange have struggled, with a 36.5% success rate. Virginia Tech has an experienced group on the offensive side. Leading scorers for the Hokies include junior attacker Tristan McGinley who has 53 points (47 g, 6 a), senior attacker Kristine Loscalzo with 53 points (47 g, 5 a), sophomore attacker Zan Biedenharn with 46 points (32 g, 14 a), junior midfielder Marissa Davey with 42 points (30 g, 12 a), junior attacker Emma Harden with 41 points (37 g, 4 a) and freshman attacker Taylor Caskey with 35 points (18 g, 17 a).
Syracuse, for the most part, started the season with a relatively inexperienced group on the offensive end. The leading scorer for the Orange is junior attacker Riley Donahue who has 55 points (33 g, 22 a), followed by freshman attacker Emily Hawryschuk and sophomore Nicole Levy with 37 points each (31 g, 6 a and 20 g, 17 a respectively). Levy has returned back into the lineup after being sidelined for three games with an injury in the 1st half against Loyola. Other contributors include redshirt freshman midfielder Mary Rahal and senior attacker Devon Parker with 31 points each (24 g, 7 a and 23 g, 8 a respectively), junior transfer (Albany) attacker Alie Jimerson with 30 points (20 g, 10 a), sophomore midfielder Natalie Wallon with 26 points (24 g, 2 a) and junior midfielder Neena Merola with 22 points (16 g, 6 a).
Virginia Tech has a good defense that's ranked 10th in the country with 8.5 goals allowed a game. The Hokies have held opponents to single digits in 10 of their 17 games this year. Defensive leaders for Virginia Tech include redshirt sophomore midfielder Mary Claire Byrne who has 36 caused turnovers and 32 ground balls, junior defender Kelly Glatthorn with 24 caused turnovers and 35 ground balls and senior defender Maddy Woolmuth with 21 caused turnovers and 25 ground balls. Redshirt junior goalie Meagh Graham is 33rd in the country with a 47% save rate and averages seven saves per game, plus 10 caused turnovers and 44 ground balls.
Syracuse started the season well on defense, sputtered in the midseason and has tightened up a lot over the last few games. While it is true that they have given up around 11 goals a game, they have held opponents below double digits in eight out of 18 contests this year, including two straight to finish the regular season.
The Orange defense is anchored by senior defender Kaeli O'Connor who has 11 caused turnovers and 40 ground balls this year, junior defender Kathy Rudkin who has nine caused turnovers and 28 ground balls, sophomore defender Alexa Radziewicz with 16 caused turnovers and 15 ground balls and junior defender Mia DiBello with 11 caused turnovers and 20 ground balls. Wallon and Merola, in addition to their offensive abilities, also have 20 caused turnovers/31 ground balls and 10 caused turnovers/19 ground balls respectively.
Freshman goalie Asa Goldstock is 51st in the country with a 44% save rate and averages around eight saves a game, plus has 11 caused turnovers and 40 ground balls. In her last four games, Goldstock has improved considerably with a 50% save rate (34 goals allowed versus 36 saves).
Virginia Tech's leaders are McGinley with 89 draw controls (28th in the country with around five per game) and Glatthorn with 41. Syracuse's leader by far is freshman defender/draw specialist Morgan Widner, who has 141 draw controls on the year and is fifth in the country with almost eight per game.
The Orange lead the series 8-0 which includes both Big East and ACC play. The Hokies joined the Big East for four years (2001-2004) before leaving for the ACC in 2005, during which time Syracuse won all four contests. After a nine-year hiatus, the two teams started facing each other again when the Orange joined Virginia Tech in the ACC and the pattern has repeated with Syracuse taking all four games.
However, this year's drama in Syracuse was much different than the lopsided contests of years past (SU won the previous seven games by an average over 16-6). The Hokies responded to a quick pair of Orange goals in the first couple of minutes of the game and surged ahead, leading 7-4 very early in the second half. The 'Cuse would make a run of their own and tied the game at 8 with about 20 minutes left.
Syracuse eventually pulled out to an 11-9 lead with six and a half minutes reaining and it seemed like the Orange had the game in hand. However, Virginia Tech cut the lead to one with 1:45 left and Caskey scored the tying goal on a free position shot with just four ticks on the clock. In overtime, Rahal fired a free position shot past Graham almost 90 seconds in to give Syracuse a thrilling 12-11 victory.