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Syracuse women’s lacrosse: ACC Tournament guide, part II

A look at SU’s aspirational opponents, should the Orange get through their half of the bracket.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

For those that missed the more relevant to Syracuse portion of our ACC Women’s Lacrosse Tournament preview, check out Part I. That portion looked at the top half of the bracket, with No. 1 Boston College vs. No. 8 Louisville and No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 5 Virginia. Part 2 will focus on the bottom half of 2 North Carolina/7 Virginia Tech and 3 Notre Dame/6 Duke on Wednesday.

No. 2 North Carolina (12-3, 5-2 ACC) vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech (8-9, 1-6 ACC), 5 p.m. ET

The Tar Heels had a rough patch at the end of March, with losses to Boston College and Notre Dame, but it looks like they’ve found their footing heading into the ACCT with easy wins over Louisville, Syracuse and Duke to end the regular season. They are a well balanced team that has averaged 15 goals a game while allowing less than eight with a tough schedule. UNC has significant wins against James Madison (18-7), Northwestern (21-11), Virginia (13-12), Florida (11-9), Syracuse (11-5) and Duke (19-5). They came close to knocking off no.2 Maryland in College Park, losing 13-12 in overtime. The Tar Heels are well on their way to securing a seeded spot in the NCAAT.

Offensively, sophomore attacker Jamie Ortega leads the team with 78 points (58 g, 20 a), while junior attacker Katie Hoeg plays the role of feeder with 76 points (26 g, 50 a). However, if Ortega is face guarded (as she was against Syracuse), there are other players who are perfectly capable of stepping up. Olivia Ferrucci has 34 points this year (22 g, 12 a), Tayler Warehime has 28 (24 g, 4 a) while Taylor McDaniels (19 g, 1 a) and Kara Klages (15 g, 5 a) have 20 each. Gianna Bowe (15 g, 3 a) and Ally Mastroianni (12 g, 4 a) have also contributed.

But it’s the defense that has carried the Tar Heels through much of the season, and a big part of that is due to goalie Taylor Moreno. The redshirt sophomore has a 55% save rate this year and only four games where she’s given up more goals than saves. But the defense around her has been pretty stingy and has forced opponents to make difficult shots on goal, assuming that they are able to get shots off at all. Mastroianni and Bowe lead the team in draw controls with 52 and 33 respectively.

Virginia Tech heads into the ACC Tournament with their chances of getting into the NCAAs on life support. The Hokies had to finish their season running a nasty gauntlet of North Carolina (19-5 loss), Syracuse (14-13 loss), Notre Dame (15-13 loss), Boston College (16-13 loss) and Virginia (13-10 loss). The UNC game was pretty tight in the first 15 minutes before the Tar Heels turned it up several notches and ran away with it. The next three games saw the Orange, Fighting Irish and Eagles jump out to early leads before Virginia Tech clawed their way back in to lose close. The Hokies actually had a 10-7 lead on the Cavaliers on Saturday with about 20 minutes remaining, but couldn’t finish. The story of Virginia Tech in 2019 has been: Close, but no cigar. In addition, the Hokies had tough losses to Duke (11-10 OT) and USC (13-11), so it’s been a frustrating year for Virginia Tech.

Offensively, sophomore attacker Paige Petty is the big offensive threat for Tech with 70 points this year (62 g, 8 a). Julia Bolte (17 g, 33 a) and Emma Crooks (40 g, 6 a) have 50 and 46 points respectively. Mary Claire Byrne, Taylor Caskey, Sarah Lubnow, Sara Goodwin and Emma Hardin have also factored into the Hokie attack this year.

The backline relies on Byrne, Elena Ricci and Jordan Tilley to lead the defensive effort, while Morgan Berman has a 40% save rate in goal. Overall, Virginia Tech is losing only two effective players (Byrne and Hardin), so they should be back in the hunt for an NCAAT berth next year.

Tech will have to get to the ACCT final just to hit the .500 mark and be eligible for the NCAAT. Given that they’re facing a Tar Heel team that seems to be hitting its stride at the right time, I don’t think Virginia Tech has much of a chance to win one (they’ll have to play a near perfect game to make it close), much less two games in the tournament. North Carolina should be heavily favored to win this one and move to the semifinals.

No. 3 Notre Dame (13-3, 5-2 ACC) vs. 6 Duke (9-7, 2-5 ACC), 8 p.m. ET

These two teams paired off a couple weekends ago, and the Fighting Irish were able to take care of business in Durham with a 15-7 win. Notre Dame has effectively punched its ticket into the NCAA Tournament, and should get a seeded spot. Where they are seeded will be determined on how they fare in the ACCT. They had a relatively weak non-conference schedule that featured Northwestern as a significant opponent. The problem is that the Fighting Irish lost to the Wildcats this past weekend 15-11, which did not help their seeding options. Notre Dame has been a mixed bag regarding the ACC opponents, also losing to Boston College (13-9) and Syracuse (10-9), but getting big wins over North Carolina (9-7) and Virginia (10-9).

The Fighting Irish run a patient, deliberate offense that uses up a lot of shot clock time, but generally finds a good shot on goal. It’s been pretty effective as Notre Dame is averaging about 15 goals a game. Notre Dame has a number of scoring threats, led by Maddie Howe (63 pts., 46 g, 17 a), Andie Aldave (57 pts., 40 g, 17 a) and Samantha Lynch (55 pts., 47 g, 8 a). Others making big contributions are Nikki Ortega (36 pts., 17 g, 19 a), Jessi Masinko (missed a month of play due to an injury, but still has 34 pts., 16 g, 18 a), Savannah Buchanan (31 pts., 14 g, 17 a) and Mollie Carr (24 pts., 18 g, 6 a).

However, ND’s true strength lies with its stifling and aggressive defense, which has given up just seven goals a game on average. As with North Carolina, a big part of this is due to the goalkeeping skills of senior Samantha Giacolone who has a 51% save rate and has only a half dozen games where she has given up more goals than saves. She has ample support from her backline of which Buchanan, Makenna Pearsall, Kathleen Rowe, Hannah Proctor, Erin McBride and Diana Kelly generally tend to lock down offenses. In addition, Aldave has 128 draw controls which further limits opposing offensive possessions. Overall, it’s a talented, veteran unit with a lot of seniors and juniors that could go far in the postseason.

Duke sits squarely on the bubble for the NCAAs. The problem is that they have no key wins that can boost their resume at this point, though they’ve come close with one goal losses to Northwestern (22-21), Penn (10-9) and Syracuse (15-14). The first round matchup against Notre Dame really is a must win game for a resume boost that could increase their NCAAT chances. Duke does have one more non-conference game after the ACCT against Virginia Commonwealth, but while that should be a win, it won’t have any impact for the selection committee. If they fail to get in, it’ll mark the third year in a row that the Blue Devils have not reached the tournament.

Offensively, Duke relies heavily on a pair of attackers in sophomore Charlotte North who has 89 points (68 g, 21 a) on the year and senior Olivia Jenner with 68 points (47 g, 21 a) or around half of the overall Blue Devils goal output. Junior midfielder Catherine Cordrey has 33 points (23 g, 10 a) and is also a solid contributor to the Duke attack.

On the defensive side, Callie Humphrey, Charlotte Tucci, Catriona Barry and Veronica Hineman are a solid core on the backline. Gabbe Cadoux has been the starter for most of the season and has a 39% save rate. Undoubtedly the Blue Devils’ strength lies in the draw circle, where Olivia and her sister Maddie Jenner have been a major force. Olivia has 114 draws so far while Maddie has 82 and will likely take over when the former graduates this year.

Notre Dame has a solid advantage in this game. If North and/or O. Jenner get face guarded, that will really limit Duke’s ability to score and this has been the case when the upper echelon of ACC teams have faced them this year. The Blue Devils’ best shot is to control the tempo of the game by winning at the draw circle. Unfortunately, Aldave is a very good draw control specialist in her own right and was able to dominate the draw against the Jenner sisters a couple of weeks ago in Durham. It would not be surprising if we see a Notre Dame/North Carolina rematch in the semis which should be a fantastic game.