A losing season is not something that the 11th-ranked (Nike/US Lacrosse preseason poll) Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team is used to having. In fact, last year’s 9-10 finish was the first time they have finished below .500 since the program began in 1998. The Orange will attempt to pick up the pieces next weekend when they host UConn in the Dome on Feb. 8 to start the 2019 campaign. SU should avoid a repeat of last year and here’s why.
The first is fall ball play. Syracuse did not play any exhibition games in the fall of 2017 due to a mumps outbreak. Fall ball is critical due to conditioning preparation for the spring, with the opportunity to play competitively against other teams and a chance for coaches to evaluate talent, particularly incoming freshmen. Add to the fact that the critical draw control rules were changed last year and the Orange were behind most other teams at the start of 2018. SU was able to resume fall ball play before this season, so it can be assumed that they will be better prepared this spring.
The second was the scheduling. Not counting the two postseason games, Syracuse played 10 out of their 17 games on the road last year, including a particularly brutal midseason stretch where they had four games in eight days. Three of these were on the road at Notre Dame, Northwestern and Princeton in that order before finishing off in the Dome against Duke. Princeton was the only win during that stretch. The scheduling is comparatively very favorable to the Orange this year, with 12 out 17 games played at home including an initial seven-game stretch in the Dome to start the season.
Take a at how the Orange used box lacrosse as part of their fall training.https://t.co/wE0LXvcvpG— Syracuse Women's Lax (@CuseWLAX) December 19, 2018
The third is a very talented incoming freshman class that will look to make some noise. It’s a group that was rated second in the country by Inside Lacrosse, with five players in the top 50 overall recruits. Attackers Meaghan Tyrrell (ranked sixth overall), Megan Carney (ninth), Alexandra Marino (34th), Alexis LeDoyen (35th) and defender Sarah Cooper (11th, and the top defensive recruit) all played in the Under Armour All-America game back in July. SU’s contingent of five players for this game was the largest of any school. Midfielder/Draw Control Specialist Braelie Kempney was also on the IL Watch List. This is possibly one of the best recruiting classes the Orange have had, and they’ve had some good classes over the years.
They will be joined by a load of returning talent on both sides of the field. The biggest losses to graduation on the offensive end were Riley Donahue, who finished third on the team with 48 points (26 g, 22 a) and Taylor Gait, who was fifth with 31 points (18 g, 13 a). Neena Merola had 20 goals, and her 52 draw controls led the team in that category.
Otherwise, the Orange will have much of the same team that they had last year which includes their three biggest offensive threats. Junior attacker Emily Hawryschuk led the team last year in points (61) and goals (53). Senior attacker Nicole Levy was second in both points (51) and goals (41). Sophomore middie Sam Swart was fourth in points (38), but third in goals (36). In addition to Hawryschuk and Levy, sophomore attacker Molly Carter finished last year with 30 points but was second on the team with 15 assists. She could very well be the replacement for Donahue, who led the team in assists with 22.
Syracuse continues to be have a lot of depth in the midfield. Junior Vanessa Constantino (30 points), Redshirt junior Mary Rahal (23 points), junior Ella Simkins, senior Julie Cross, redshirt junior Cara Quimby, redshirt junior Emily Resnick and junior Bella Recchion all had significant playing time and contributions last year. Senior Natalie Wallon spent most of 2018 sidelined with an injury, but given how well she played in 2017, she should also be a threat on both sides of the field.
The defense is experienced and should be pretty solid. Cooper will likely see a good chunk of playing time. Senior Alexa Radziewicz (22 gb, 15 ct), juniors Kerry Defliese (20 gb, 15 ct) and Lila Nazarian (19 gb, 10 ct) will anchor the defensive line. Simkins, who had 33 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers, should have an impact on the defensive end as well. In goal, junior Asa Goldstock (159 saves, .438 save rate, 42 gb, 9 ct) and sophomore Hannah Van Middelem (40 saves, .435 save rate, 12 gb) will also see a lot of action.
As promised, here are more photos from today's @GoTeamIMPACT ceremony welcoming Maddy Hertweck!— Syracuse Women's Lax (@CuseWLAX) January 26, 2019
Photo Gallery: https://t.co/Ywi3mb1B93 pic.twitter.com/G75xRxJjcA
2019 Schedule (all times ET)
Friday, Feb. 8: UConn Huskies, 3 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 12: Binghamton Bearcats, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 16: No. 1 Boston College Eagles, noon
Monday, Feb. 18: vs. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, 5 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 24: No. 8 Northwestern Wildcats, noon
Wednesday, Feb. 27: No. 12 Loyola Greyhounds, 4 p.m.
Saturday, March 2: No. 17 Virginia Cavaliers, 4 p.m.
Saturday, March 9: at No. 2 Maryland Terrapins, noon
Wednesday, March 13: at No. 4 Florida Gators, 7 p.m.
Sunday, March 17: at Louisville Cardinals, noon
Tuesday, March 19: Harvard Crimson, 4 p.m.
Saturday, March 23: No. 19 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, noon
Wednesday, March 27: Albany Great Danes, 6 p.m.
Saturday, March 30: at Duke Blue Devils, noon
Wednesday, April 3: No. 13 Virginia Tech Hokies, time TBD
Saturday, April 13: at No. 3 North Carolina Tar Heels, noon
Tuesday, April 16: Cornell Big Red, 7 p.m.
The obvious ones are Boston College, Maryland, Florida and North Carolina. BC’s offense is going to be loaded with Sam Apuzzo (129 pts, 45 gb, 31 ct, 163 dc), Kenzie Kent (did not play in 2018 but had 77 pts in just 12 games in 2017) and Dempsey Arsenault (103 pts, 59 gb, 30 ct, 111 dc) simply being the most obvious offensive threats. North Carolina lost some key players last year, but have plenty coming back, including attackers Katie Hoeg (Junior, 89 pts) and Jamie Ortega (Sophomore, 86 pts). Florida is also reloading and should have good balance on both sides of the field. Maryland is, well, Maryland. I think the Orange need to win at least one or split these contests, which will admittedly be a tall order.
Northwestern and Loyola are also important non-conference games. Syracuse has both of these teams at home, which helps considerably, given that three of the four other games above are away (only BC is at home). Splitting or winning both of these games is imperative.
Quick Look at the ACC
If there is one word to describe the ACC in 2019, it’s “grueling.” Boston College and North Carolina are the obvious top dogs, but you cannot discount Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Virginia, Duke or Syracuse. Louisville has a young team this year and with two seniors, will probably not have much conference success. However, they are only two years removed from being in the NCAAT and Coach Scott Teeter should turn this team around soon.
Virginia Tech has a mix of young talent and experience with sophomore attacker Paige Petty (65 pts in 2018) and graduate midfielder Mary Claire Byrne (52 gb, 32 ct) being players to watch. The Hokies, under 3rd year head coach John Sung, have been the most improved team in the conference. In two years, Sung has turned a 5-13 2016 team into a program that just missed getting into the NCAAT in 2017 with a 11-8 record before having their best season ever last year at 14-7, a 3rd seed in the ACCT and a NCAAT appearance.
Notre Dame has a lot of experience mixed in with some younger talent. Sophomore midfielders Maddie Howe (55 pts) and Andie Aldave (45 pts, 20 gb, 98 dc), junior midfielder Savannah Buchanan (43 pts, 38 gb, 18 ct, 67 dc), Senior attacker Nikki Ortega (41 pts) and junior attacker Jessi Masinko (33 pts) will lead the offense. Junior midfielder Kathleen Roe (31 gb, 30 ct), senior midfield/defense Makenna Pearsall (26 gb, 22 ct) and senior goalkeeper Samantha Giacolone (165 saves, 47% save percentage) will shore up the defense. The Irish missed out on the NCAAT last year with a 10-9 record, but they should have a spot there come May.
Virginia started out strong in 2018 but fizzled towards the end of the season, finishing 10-10 but getting into the NCAAT. They return several key players with junior midfielder Sammy Mueller (74 pts), senior midfielder Maggie Jackson (64 pts, 52 gb, 21 ct & 97 dc), 34 gb, 15 ct & 81 dc), senior attacker Avery Shoemaker (62 pts) and senior defender Kaitlin Luzik (46 gb, 35 ct) being the most prominent.
Duke has finished just under the .500 mark the last two years and has not seen the NCAAT since 2016. The Blue Devils may have some young talent, but the key returners on offense are senior attackers Charlotte North (64 pts) and Olivia Jenner (44 pts, 149 dc). Yes, 149 draw controls in 2018. Sophomore midfielder Catronia Berry had 53 draw controls and 15 caused turnovers while junior Callie Humphrey (32 gb, 16 ct) will be prominent on the defensive side.
Keys to success in 2019
An obvious one given the problems that the Orange had last year, but I thought they did pretty well towards the end of the season. As stated above, they had no fall ball to really practice the new draw control rules in a competitive setting but they also had to play most of the year without their main draw specialist in Morgan Widner. After having a dominant performance in 2017, Widner went down with an ACL injury in the third game of the season against Albany. Cross had a little experience, but Syracuse had to scramble to find an effective answer to the draw control problem.
Coach Gait used Hawryschuk towards the end of the season to back up Cross (who finished 2nd with 51 draw controls) and the former did a creditable job. Hawryschuk finished 4th on the team with 34 draws, which is actually pretty remarkable given that she was in the draw circle for the final third of the year more or less. It would be interesting speculation to see what might have been had she started much earlier. With Widner, Cross and Hawryschuk now having considerable experience in this area, plus a couple of other backups listed on the roster, Coach Gait has a lot of options for the draw circle this year.
I thought that there were a number of situations in 2018 where SU looked pretty sloppy with the passing and just made poor decisions. There were way too many situations where passes were off the mark, dropped and when a passing opportunity was there, players elected to push upfield and charge into double or even triple coverage. It hurt them badly in critical moments. Syracuse had 6 games last year that were decided by a single goal. They won two of those (Princeton and OT vs. Loyola). The other four losses (Virginia, Notre Dame in OT, Boston College and Princeton in OT of the NCAAT) could have and probably should have been wins. But the mistakes that piled up were too much to overcome. There are some games on this schedule that the Orange will win just by sheer talent alone. But there are a lot of SU opponents in 2019 that will take advantage of SU miscues if given the chance.
Lots of depth
Syracuse needs to utilize the depth to wear opponents down. It worked to some extent last year, but draw control struggles and execution miscues partly counteracted what should have been a more deadly offense. The defense, which featured three players for the most part (Radziewicz, DiBello and Nazarian), should improve on their already decent 2018 play. Defliese has moved over from midfield to defense, replacing DiBello while Cooper should get a lot of playing time. That’s not even counting the middies in support.
The Orange should improve this season and avoid most of the problems that they had last year. About a half dozen games are likely wins, so it’ll come down to the contests listed above. SU did well against non-conference opponents in 2018, going 8-3. There were games in which they were expected to win, but they also beat very good Florida, Loyola and Princeton teams. Their losses came to Maryland, Northwestern and Princeton in the 1st round of the NCAAT. Their 1-7 (includes the ACCT loss to UNC) run through ACC play is what really did Syracuse in last year, so conference play improvement will be critical to their success in 2019.