Following the heartbreaking loss to ACC foe No. 7/6 Virginia on Sunday, the No. 8/8 Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team needed a big win against either No. 4/3 Florida or No. 5/2 Maryland (or both?) this week to stay in the top 10. They did just that on Wednesday afternoon in the Dome, holding off a late rally by the Gators in the final seven minutes to edge out a 17-15 victory. It was SU’s first win over Florida since 2015.
Florida (4-2) held a slight edge throughout the initial 13 minutes of the 1st half, generally keeping a one or two goal lead on the Orange (4-1) to take a 7-5 lead with 16:50 left in the half. The Gators had a golden opportunity for their largest lead of the day at the 16:41 mark. Florida midfielder Shannon Kavanagh reached high to get the draw control, grabbed it and passed it off to fellow midfielder Sydney Pirreca. Pirreca darted downfield past two Orange defenders and shot high on goalie Asa Goldstock. Goldstock blocked the shot and while the Gators retained possession, it was their best chance at prying the game open.
Instead, Nicole Levy and Taylor Gait would score back to back goals to tie the game for the third time at 7. Florida midfielder Caroline Benitez would put the Gators back up for the last time just 30 seconds later to give Florida an 8-7 lead with 12:11 left in the half. The Orange would finally take the lead for the first time on a pair of goals by Sam Swart and Taylor Gait to give SU a 9-8 lead at the 8:11 mark. The game settled down into a defensive battle for the rest of the half and neither team could find the back of the net. The ‘Cuse defense solidified with some nice stops, with Mia DiBello in particular getting a good check on Florida attacker Lindsey Ronbeck to force a shot high over Goldstock at the 7:37 mark. Goldstock would also get several nice saves during this time to stifle any Gator attempt to tie the game back up. Syracuse would go into the half still holding a 9-8 lead at the half.
Florida would end up tying the game at 9 just 30 seconds in when Kavanagh took a pass from Pirreca off the draw control and the game started to look eerily similar to the Virginia game on Saturday. SU was up at the half in that game by two goals and then lost a number of draws to give the Cavaliers a lead that they would not relinquish. Up to this point in the game, the Gators had a similar dominance at the draw control winning out on a 13-6 margin (they would finish 23-11 in this category for the day). Just a minute later, they would threaten to regain the lead once more.
However, Goldstock’s huge free position save at the 28:27 mark would turn Florida away and paved the way for Syracuse to blow the game wide open. The Orange scored seven straight goals over the next 15 minutes to go up 16-9 with 13:07 left in the game. Florida would respond soon after, but five minutes later, Levy would finish the ‘Cuse scoring for the day when she swung around the left side of the cage and bounced a shot low to equal SU’s largest lead of the day at 17-10. It looked like the rout was on.
However, the dreaded draw control problems resurfaced and the Gators took the last six draws of the game to score five unanswered goals over a six and a half minute period. Pirreca got a yellow card at the 2:11 mark which left Florida a man-down for practically the rest of the contest (until 11 seconds left). However, an errant pass gave the Gators an transition opportunity and they took full advantage of it. Sydney’s sister Shayna Pirreca took a pass and scored a man-down goal with just 58 seconds left to cut the Orange lead to 17-15. The nail-biting continued as Florida won yet another draw and pushed upfield again. Goldstock made a key save on a high shot by Florida’s Allie Pavinelli with 28 seconds to go. Florida would get two more free position opportunities, but the SU defense kept the Gators from getting another good shot to preserve the win.
The Turning Point
At the beginning of the 2nd half, Florida’s Kavanagh had just scored a quick transition goal to tie the game at 9. As stated above, this threatened to turn the momentum back to the Gators, who had struggled late in the 1st half to find the back of the net. Kavanagh would get that opportunity just a minute later at the 28:30 mark when she was fouled to set up a free position shot on the left of the fan. The Florida midfielder charged forward and tried to bounce it past Goldstock, who managed to get a piece. The shot bounced back out towards SU defender Lila Nazarian, who corralled it and avoided several Florida players before safely passing it back to Goldstock.
SU cleared the ball and pushed upfield. The Gator defense remained tough, but as the shot clock ran down, Sam Swart darted in and bounced a shot past Florida goalie Haley Hicklen with just 4 seconds left on the shot clock to give Syracuse the lead once again. Three minutes later and following a crease violation that waived off a Gator goal, Emily Hawryschuk would face a similar situation with just two ticks left on the shot clock. She sidewinded a missile from the 8 meter arc that bounced just inside the left post to give what was then SU’s largest lead of the day at 11-9. This started the big Orange run that pushed the lead out to 16-9 and was enough to secure the victory for the ‘Cuse.
Florida outshot Syracuse 40-32 overall and 29-24 on goal. SU won the turnover and ground ball battles 17-13 and 15-13 respectively. Florida had four yellow cards to the Orange’s two. However, the Gators dominated the draw control circle 23-11. Although Florida had more free position opportunities, they could only convert 2-10 while SU was more efficient, going 4-6 on the day.
Nine SU players scored points on Wednesday. Levy finished with four goals, Gait had four points (3 g, 1 a), Riley Donahue and Swart added three goals each, Alie Jimerson and Molly Carter both had a goal and two assists each, Emily Resnick and Hawryschuk had a goal each while Neena Merola had an assist. Kerry DeFliese saw some time in the draw circle today and wound up with three draws to lead the Orange.
The highlight of the day belongs to Donahue, who had a really nice goal at the 20:05 mark of the 1st half to bring Syracuse back within one at 5-4. Donahue worked her way along the right line of the fan and managed to send an off-balance shot bouncing in from the right side of the cage with almost no angle to send it in.
The offense certainly did its job in scoring on Wednesday, but a big factor in SU’s win was the defense in general and goalie Goldstock in particular. She finished the day with 14 saves for a 48.3% save percentage. Several huges saves throughout Wednesday’s contest kept Florida from getting any momentum, particularly at the end of the first half and throughout much of the second half.
The defense was stingy for a huge chunk of the game. They would limit a high-powered Gator attack to just two goals between the 12:11 mark of the 1st half through the 7:26 mark of the second half, a period of almost 35 minutes. While Goldstock did some heavy lifting at goal, the defense did force Florida to take a number of bad shots and created numerous turnovers.
Free positions loomed large in this game. While the Orange were relatively efficient from the fan, going 4-6 for the day, the Gators struggled for 2-10. While some of this was due to Goldstock, it was also the defense overall that collapsed in on Florida attackers to force some bad shots.
It was another bad day in the draw circle for Syracuse, who got only about a third of them (23-11 in favor of Florida). Yes, the Orange won, but giving up the last six draws of the game is really inexcusable as it led to a much closer game than it should have been and could have potentially cost them the victory. By halves, Florida won the 1st half draw battle 12-6 and 11-5 in the second (which means it was a 50-50 situation before the end). This continues to be a problem for the Orange and could cost them some big games down the road if this is not dealt with.
Swart won the National Rookie of the Week award from Inside Lacrosse Women for her role in the Virginia contest on Sunday. The freshman midfielder has already made her presence known this season, but had a great game against the Cavaliers, netting four goals on six shots. She was also instrumental in SU’s win against Florida, scoring three goals on five shots and added a ground ball and caused turnover.
The ‘Cuse stays at home to face Maryland on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET in the Dome. The Terrapins are also 4-1 overall and that includes a win over Florida and an overtime loss to North Carolina.