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Syracuse women’s lacrosse 2020 season preview

The Orange look to get back to Memorial Day weekend for the first time since 2016.

Boston College v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Over the past few years, the Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team have inched closer and closer towards regaining a spot in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Memorial Day weekend. In 2017 and 2018, the ‘Cuse stumbled in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but reached the quarterfinals last year where they lost to a resurgent Northwestern squad.

The No. 4/4 Orange look like they have all of the pieces in place for a Final Four run in 2020. A combination of experience, talent and depth in all areas of the field mean that there is a good chance they finally make it back to the proverbial promised land this year. However, they will first have to get through some stiff competition. North Carolina, Maryland, Notre Dame, Northwestern and even Boston College will all be pushing their own claims for a spot at the table.

Syracuse has returned most of their 2019 squad, losing only a few players from last year. Both midfielder Julie Cross (7 g, 14 dc) and defender Alexa Radziewicz (19 gb, 15 ct) certainly contributed to the ‘Cuse’s success last year, but Nicole Levy was arguably the biggest loss in the senior class. The starting attacker finished last season with 29 goals and a team high 27 assists.

Even with that absence on the offensive end, the Orange still have plenty of firepower coming back. Senior attacker Emily Hawryschuk led the team last year with 75 goals and is an obvious threat, but there are a number of other players that will contribute. The list below gives an idea of the depth of the scoring attack:

  • A Meaghan Tyrrell (Sophomore): 37 g, 20 a
  • A Megan Carney (Sophomore): 34 g, 24 a
  • M Sam Swart (Junior): 32 g
  • M Mary Rahal (Redshirt Senior): 22 g, 14 a
  • M Natalie Wallon (Redshirt Senior): 11 g, 11 a
  • A Morgan Alexander (Redshirt Senior): 20 g
  • M Sierra Cockerille (Sophomore): 9 g
  • M Vanessa Costantino (Senior): 7 g
  • M Cara Quimby (Redshirt Senior): 8 g

The defense was very stingy last year and will most likely continue to have a strong presence in 2020. Though Radziewicz is gone, it is still the best they’ve had since 2012-2013. The trio of defenders in Sarah Cooper (sophomore), Kerry Defliese (redshirt junior) and Ella Simkins (senior) will anchor the backline. The three racked up impressive stats in ground balls and caused turnovers:

  • Cooper: 36 gb, 33 ct
  • Defliese: 33 gb, 28 ct
  • Simkins: 29 gb, 26 ct

Several other players will likely make contributions on this side of the field as well. Junior defensive midfielder Grace Fahey was a factor in Syracuse’s backline success last year, being involved in every game last year (started in 12) and finished with 22 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers. Junior defender Allyson Trice also had significant playing time in 2019 (18 games, started in seven) and added another 15 ground balls and eight caused turnovers. Defender Lila Nazarian rounds out the defense. The senior had a good year in 2018 and played in 15 games last year (started in one) with eight ground balls. That doesn’t even count the midfielders. Rahal (24 gb), Wallon (19 gb, 16 ct), Swart (16 gb) and Costantino (13 gb) all shared time with the regular defenders in stopping opposing offenses.

The Orange will almost certainly go back to a dual goalie system this year. Senior Asa Goldstock has started in every game but one over the last three years and should continue that trend in 2020. Goldstock had 45 ground balls last year and had a 42% save rate. She will be joined by junior Hannah Van Middelem, who played in a dozen games in 2018 and finished with an almost 44% save rate. Van Middelem likely redshirted in 2019 (although she is not listed as such yet) as she did not take the field last year.

Syracuse’s problems with draw controls in 2018 were largely corrected last year and the ‘Cuse have several specialists to choose from this year. Hawryschuk (67 dc), redshirt junior Morgan Widner (42 dc) and sophomore Braelie Kempney (24 dc) all shared time in the circle and were supported on the wings by Cooper (42 dc), Fahey (24 dc), Simkins (22 dc), Wallon (16 dc) and Costantino (13 dc).

Syracuse landed the 9th best recruiting class in the country according to Inside Lacrosse Women and had two midfielders in the top 40 list in Katelyn Mashewske (no. 30) and Bianca Chevarie (no. 35).

2020 Schedule

(all times in EST)

Friday, Feb. 7: Canisius, 7:30 p.m.

Monday, Feb. 10: Stony Brook, 5 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 15: Albany, 10 a.m.

Sunday, Feb. 16: Binghamton, 8 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 22: at Northwestern, time TBD

Monday, Feb. 24: Colgate, 5 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 28: Maryland, 3 p.m.

Sunday, March 8: at Virginia Tech (*Charlotte, N.C.) 1:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 12: at Virginia, 7 p.m.

Saturday, March 21: Louisville (“home” in Bradenton, Fla.), 1 p.m.

Sunday, March 29: at Notre Dame, 2 p.m.

Wednesday, April 1: at Loyola, 5 p.m.

Saturday, April 4: Duke (“home” in Dallas, Tex.), 6 p.m.

Saturday, April 11: North Carolina, 1 p.m.

Tuesday, April 14: at Cornell, 7 p.m.

Saturday, April 18: at Boston College, time TBD

Thursday, April 30: UMass (“home” in Schenectady, N.Y.), 5 p.m.

Key Games

Clearly there are two huge non-conference games in February with no. 3/3 Northwestern and no. 1/2 Maryland a week apart. Northwestern lost a few impact players from last year, but has several others ready to step up, particularly on offense. Maryland also lost a bunch of players from last year, including Tewaaraton winner goalie Megan Taylor (the first goalie ever to win the award and certainly deserving of it). However, if anything can be said for the Terrapins, it’s that they reload every single year and I don’t think 2020 will be an exception no matter who they lose to graduation.

Fellow ACC opponents no. 2/1 North Carolina on Easter weekend and no. 7/7 Notre Dame at the end of March will also be important games and I wouldn’t rule out no. 5/5 Boston College right before the ACCT.

Other games of note will be an early season contest against no. 12/12 Stony Brook, no. 8/9 Virginia, no. 23/RV Virginia Tech and no.11/11 Loyola and none of these games should be taken lightly.

Quick Look at the ACC:

North Carolina, Syracuse and Notre Dame probably have the best chance of capturing an ACC title, with Boston College possibly playing a dark horse role. If I were to pick the team most likely to win the ACC this year, I’d go with the Tar Heels. One thing the strikes me about them is that they seem to have great seasons no matter how much experience they have (Jamie Ortega, Katie Hoeg and Taylor Moreno are just a few examples of the talent they’ll have this year). North Carolina was a young team last season and yet they came within an ace of getting into the final and took a much more experienced Boston College team down to the wire before losing in overtime (an odd game that was almost the exact opposite of how the ACCT final ended). They’re also one of the few teams that seem to be able to take on Maryland toe to toe year in and year out.

Syracuse and Notre Dame probably have the best chance of knocking the Tar Heels from their perch as they both field experienced and talented teams. This is probably the best team that Orange has fielded in about 5-6 years while the Irish have a very senior laden team this season backed by the top two incoming recruits in midfielder Kasey Choma and attacker Madison Ahern. Notre Dame has had some stellar recruiting classes over the past few years, but that has not yet translated into much postseason success. If either one of these teams wants to capture its first national title, this would be the year to do it.

Boston College lost a lot of experience on both ends of the field and while the defense could be a question mark (although the goalie position is shored up with sophomore Rachel Hall who transferred from Oregon), the offense will still be a threat even with the loss of Sam Apuzzo, Kenzie Kent and Dempsey Arsenault. Both senior attacker Cara Urbank and senior midfielder Sheila Rietano will be solid offensive threats (as they were last year, but were overshadowed by the Big Three). But the biggest coup was getting Duke transfer attacker Charlotte North. North was the Blue Devils’ leading scorer the last two years (and she was given the green light from the NCAA to play this year and next) and her offensive skills should have an immediate impact for the Eagles. The question will be whether that will be enough to deal with equally talented and more experienced teams in North Carolina, Syracuse and Notre Dame.

Virginia had probably their best season last year since 2014 (when they went to the Final Four before falling to Syracuse) with a 13-7 record and reaching the quarterfinals before succumbing to North Carolina. Losing two offensive threats in Avery Shoemaker and Maggie Jackson (who also led the team in draws) certainly hurt the Cavaliers, but they had a balanced offense statistically and a lot will depend on how those players develop around Sammy Mueller, who should be the primary go-to player this year. If this occurs, Virginia could very well repeat a quarterfinal run in the NCAAT.

Virginia Tech will surprise a lot of people this season. The Hokies had a young team that finished 8-10 in 2019, but had several very close losses that could have changed the year around. With only several players lost to graduation, the core of their team remains and they should have a balanced offense centered around junior attacker Paige Petty. Virginia Tech also picked up senior goalie Angie Benson. Benson was at Towson in 2016 and 2017. The Hokies could very well get back into the NCAAT in 2020.

Duke and Louisville have their work cut out for them. The Blue Devils lost their two biggest scorers last year in Olivia Jenner (who also led the team in draw controls) and North, who transferred to BC. Those two players constituted roughly half of Duke’s scoring and the greater chunk of draws last year. If the Blue Devils want to reach the postseason, other players will have to step up and develop. Even if that happens, it could be an up hill battle once again. Otherwise, they’ll be sitting out of the NCAAT for what would be four years in a row.

Coach Scott Teeter is still rebuilding a Louisville team that has yet to recover from internal issues a couple of years ago. Several tough one goal losses could have put them closer to .500 last year (finished 5-13), but it’s a young team that should continue to improve over the next few seasons. Like Duke however, it’s going to be a struggle this year given the amount of talent in the ACC in 2020. The loss of top scorer Tessa Chad to graduation and one of their best defenders in Shay Clevenger to Loyola did not help. It could very well be another brutal year for the Cardinals in the ACC, who will still look to win their first conference game under Teeter.

Keys to Success in 2020

Offensive Execution

The Orange offense averaged 14 goals a game last season. While that’s decent, they should be averaging a bit higher than that given all of the threats they have. While they cleaned up the passing problems a bit compared to 2018, the offense still had long periods of scoring droughts in every game and that certainly hurt against the better teams. Syracuse finished 16-5 last year and lost to just four teams: Northwestern (who they split), North Carolina, Maryland and Boston College (twice). Those were the teams that made up the Final Four last year and the Orange had periods of 15-20 minutes in those games where they could get a goal. Those teams, plus Notre Dame will be equally unforgiving if the ‘Cuse continues this trend in 2020.

Gotta Win the Big Games

Yeah, this is in Captain Obvious territory, but it’s nonetheless true: Syracuse has certainly struggled against elite teams in the past. Boston College in their heyday for the last three years has gone 4-1 against the Orange since 2017. SU hasn’t beaten Maryland since 2011 and many of those losses have been pretty bad (although I would say that last year’s overtime loss to the Terps was probably one of the best games the ‘Cuse played in 2019). Syracuse is 2-7 against North Carolina since 2015 (and has lost the last four times). Northwestern routinely knocked off the Orange during their period of winning several national championships. Since the Wildcats have dropped a notch, SU has been able to win roughly half of these games, but none in Evanston, where they’ll play NU this year.

The teams most likely to make it to Memorial Day weekend will be UNC, Maryland, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Syracuse (and possibly Boston College). The regular season sets up both ACC and NCAA tournament seeds, so beating both the Wildcats and Terps in February would be big statement wins for the tournament committee come May. The same could be said for Notre Dame, North Carolina and even Boston College as well (and would do wonders for ACCT seeding). If the Orange want to make it to the final weekend, then they need to establish themselves early on and prove that they can win these games.

Dome Renovations and the Mid-Late Season Scheduling

With the lone exception of Northwestern (away game), Syracuse will be in the Dome throughout the entire month of February (six games total). After that, they’ll be almost exclusively on the road for the next couple of months, even with “home” games. The lone exception is North Carolina and that will probably be played CBA. This will be due to the renovations continuing at the Dome and cannot be avoided. The biggest issue could be a three game stretch between March 29 and April 4. Syracuse will travel to South Bend to play the Irish on the 29th, head back east to Maryland where they will face Loyola in Baltimore on April Fool’s Day and then go out to play Duke in Dallas, TX on the 4th.

Syracuse will play UMass after the ACCT at the end of April and it’s a good idea for a couple of reasons. Given the amount of travel they’ll be doing in March and April, any game that helps prevent schedule cramming is a good thing. More rest between games, the less chance of SU tiring out going into a big game. The ACC holds its conference tournament two weeks before the NCAAT. That’s a pretty long stretch not to be playing. Teams can get rusty after getting into a sort of rhythm throughout the season if they’re not playing on a regular basis. I’m actually surprised we don’t do this more often (the last time we did this was in 2015 against Loyola).

Coaching Changes

Associate Head Coach Regy Thorpe left the team last year to start up the New York Riptide franchise in the National Lacrosse League. Thorpe is both the coach and general managers for the Riptide. Although there is no current associate head coach, Coach Gary Gait brought on former Florida offensive star Sydney Pirecca as an assistant coach. Pirecca is no stranger to the Orange as she faced them several times in a Gator uniform (graduated in 2019) and should be a good fit on the coaching staff. She will join assistant coach Caitlin Defliese, who has been with SU since 2016.