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Syracuse women’s lacrosse vs. North Carolina preview

No. 1 vs. No. 2. It’s go-time for the best matchup of the regular season in women’s lacrosse.

Stony Brook v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

First and foremost, I’d like for someone to explain to me why the brains behind women’s lacrosse thought it would be a good idea to have the two best teams in the country play each other at 11 AM on a Saturday. This game has prime-time written all over it. Don’t put such a phenomenal matchup on before lunchtime. Come on! *Sigh* Alright, I digress.

The No. 2 Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team (6-0, 4-0) heads down to Chapel Hill this Saturday to face-off with the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (10-0, 4-0) for the most tantalizing of all matchups in women’s lacrosse this season. So far in 2021, these teams have shown themselves to be the clear top two, dominating their way to respective undefeated records.

Both teams have proven to be among the best in the country in every facet of the women’s game: offense, defense, draw controls, and goalies. Everywhere you look on the field with these two teams, you see players who can be considered at or near the top of their positions across the landscape.

Carolina’s Defense

Let’s illustrate that point with some numbers. The Tar Heels lead the country in several categories: scoring defense (5.4 per game), scoring margin (11.5 per game), save percentage (61.2 percent), and fewest turnovers (10.5). The defense is also limiting opposing offenses to 25.4 percent shooting, which is the best number in school history. They’ve held every opponent this season to single-digits, with Boston College getting the closet with nine goals in a game they lost by 12. Their closest margin of victory is SIX. They’re an absolute buzzsaw.

Led by goalie Taylor Moreno between the pipes, this is the best defense in the country and will be the truest test for Gary Gait’s loaded offense.

Carolina’s Offense

As if having the best defense in the country wasn’t enough, UNC boasts the fourth-highest scoring offense in 2021, as well. The Tar Heels average 16.9 goals per game and are led by the two leading scorers in program history in Katie Hoeg and Jamie Ortega.

Both have accumulated more than 300 points in their careers and provide a monumental challenge to any defense they go up against. Ortega is the scorer and leads the ACC in points per game (5.7), while Hoeg is the assister and isn’t too far behind at 5 points per game.

It should be fascinating to watch this group go up against SU’s zone defense.

Syracuse’s Offense

The Orange women are the definition of an offense that doesn’t care who scores, only that they score. The movement of both ball and players in coach Gait’s weave offense is simply a joy to watch when working at peak efficiency, with the goal truly being unselfishness that ends with a pass to the player in the right spot to take the shot.

Megan Carney and Meaghan Tyrrell lead the way on a deep and talented offense. Both players have 33 points on the season and are tied for second in the ACC behind Ortega in points per game (5.5). The starting offense is rounded out by the talents of Emma Ward, Emily Ehle, Sierra Cockerille, Sam Swart, and Emma Tyrrell.

These seven players working in this offense make you believe in the concept of teamwork. They are fun to watch, and just like on the other end of the field, I can’t wait to watch this great offense face the lowest-scoring defense in the country.

Syracuse’s Defense

The wonder of the Orange zone defense is equally as fun to behold as watching the SU offense. Led by goalie Asa Goldstock, this defense has talent all over but has been showing a few cracks in the last three games.

After giving up only six, six, and five goals in the season’s first three games, the defense has given up double-digits in the last three games to Notre Dame (twice) and Virginia Tech. This is a bad time to be trending in the wrong direction with UNC’s offense up next, but I believe a portion of this is fixable.

An area where the defense has been struggling recently is in giving up free-position shots (FPS). In the first three games, the Orange gave up a total of 13 FPS. In the last three, they’ve given up 29, including 12 in the Virginia Tech game alone. If you look at the VT game, five of the Hokies 10 goals were on free-position opportunities, which means that the defense only gave up five goals from the run of play.

The team has been giving up way too many FPS as of late, and it’s been really hurting their defensive numbers. It’s easier said than done, but cleaning that up and giving UNC has few free-positions as possible will go a long way in getting a positive result in this game.

Slow Starts

In the last two games, the ladies have come out a little sluggish and sloppy, especially on the offensive end of the field. Those slow starts have led to first half deficits that have required halftime adjustments.

The good news is that those adjustments have led to barn-storming second halves by Syracuse, but the bad news is that North Carolina is the team that will bury those kind of starts so that a comeback is impossible. So the ladies need to make sure they get off to at least a competitive start in the first half of this one, to make sure that a massive comeback isn’t necessary.

Game Time

Folks, we’ve got ourselves and incredible matchup here for the game of women’s lacrosse. There really isn’t a weakness here anywhere on the field. It’s is going to be a true battle of strength vs. strength, and the product should be spectacular to watch.

So get ready for some Saturday morning/early afternoon (again, why?) lacrosse, where you can just wake up and get right into watching the two best teams in the country battle it out. It should be awesome. Can’t wait, and Let’s Go Orange!!