The No. 2 Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team took their first loss of the season on Saturday, suffering a brutal 17-6 setback against the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels down in Chapel Hill.
Enthusiasm for this matchup had been building for weeks as both teams rolled through their respective schedules, establishing themselves as the two best teams in the country.
On Saturday, North Carolina showed everyone that there’s a gap between one and two.
A sizable one.
This UNC team is a super-team. No one’s gotten closer than six goals to them this season. No one’s scored more than nine goals against them. On Saturday, SU didn’t do either.
Strangely, it all started so well as the Orange took a 4-1 lead 10 minutes into the game, scoring on their first four shots. After that, the good times got stopped in their tracks by this UNC juggernaut. The final 50 minutes of the game were completely owned by North Carolina. They controlled every aspect of the game, outscoring the Orange 16-2 in that time frame.
The Tar Heel defense played near perfection after their slow start, allowing only two goals in the final 50 minutes. Goalie Taylor Moreno had a huge day with 11 saves, and the defense in front of her caused nine of SU’s 13 turnovers on the day. This Syracuse team had scored at least 15 goals in every game this season. Today, they barely reached one-third of that mark.
The Tar Heel offense was equally as impressive, taking the possession given to them by the defense and converting it with incredible efficiency. UNC shot 17-of-24 on the day, an absurd shooting percentage of 70.8. They were clinical in the way they attacked the SU defense, keeping them off balance and using excellent ball and player movement to find good scoring opportunities in the middle of the Orange defense. They had the SU D spinning.
Carolina was led by huge days from their stars, Jamie Ortega (5G, 3A) and Katie Hoeg (3G, 4 A), with Scottie Rose Growney (4G) and Ally Mastroianni (2G, 2A) adding four points each.
For the Orange, Meaghan Tyrrell (4G) was the only player to have a multiple-point day. Beyond her, Megan Carney and Sam Swart each had one goal, and Sierra Cockerille had an assist. No other Orange players recorded a point in this one.
The game started fast for the Orange, with Meaghan Tyrrell opening the scoring just over a minute in. After North Carolina tied it up a few minutes later, the Orange went on a 3-0 run on goals by Swart, Carney, and a second for Tyrrell. All four goals were unassisted.
In the half’s final 20 minutes, North Carolina came to life and started putting on an absolute clinic. The Tar Heels closed the half on a 9-0 run to take a commanding 10-4 halftime lead.
For UNC, the formula was easy: dominate every phase of the game. They started winning more draw controls to get more possession and chances for their offense. On the defensive end, they started causing turnovers to prevent the Orange from even getting shots on cage. The Tar Heels defense caused seven turnovers in the first half, many of which were impressive takeaways by their defenders. When the Orange did get shots off, Moreno turned into a wall after allowing the first four shots in.
On offense, the Tar Heels simply could not be stopped. They scored nine goals in a 14 minute span. 9 in 14 minutes! I mean, come on!
The UNC offense gave SU some of their own medicine, as they used strong player movement and exceptional passing to find great scoring chances in the middle of the defense. Their cutters were active and their passers found them with remarkable consistency. They had the Orange defense out of sorts and chasing in a way they haven’t all season.
Once the connection was made, the Tar Heel shooters were lights out. They scored 10 goals on just 13 shots, an insane 77 shooting percentage. Asa Goldstock didn’t make her first save of the game until there were two minutes left in the half.
The second half didn’t go much better, as UNC outscored SU 7-2 and, with a goal at just over four minutes remaining in the game, put the running clock on as they increased their lead to double-digits.
Overall, it was the worst performance of the year on both ends of the field for the Orange, who scored fewer goals and gave up more goals than they had all season.
I do think this team has more fight in them than they showed today. They did not play their best game, and that’s largely due to the opponent, but there’s also plenty to be cleaned up that can help them be more competitive with the Tar Heels. For example, a lot of the turnovers that Carolina caused in the first half were individual stick-checks that put the ball on the ground. That is partially well-done by the defenders, but it’s also careless by the SU ball-carriers, who can do better to protect the ball and prevent those turnovers from happening.
More concerning than the turnovers is how the weave offense was stifled by the UNC defense. The Orange came into the day assisting on almost 60 percent of their goals and averaging almost 10 assists per game. Today, they had one assist on six goals.
This offense is at its best when the players are sharing the ball and engaging in constant movement. They did that in the opening 10 minutes before turnovers took over and UNC went on a run to put the game away.
On the other end, Carolina beat SU at their own game. The Tar Heels were the team utilizing great ball and player movement to the tune of 12 assists on 17 goals — exactly how the Orange have beaten down teams in their first six games.
There are plenty of corrections to make and lots of work to do for this team now. They will likely see UNC again, perhaps twice. Like I said, I believe they have a more competitive effort in them against the Tar Heels, but it’s now nose-to-the-grindstone time.
Syracuse may well still be the second-best team in the country, but they’ve got a long road ahead of them to close the gap on No. 1.
Syracuse will have a quick turnaround before they head back up to CNY, as they go to Washington DC to play the Georgetown Hoyas in a game that was postponed earlier this season due to a COVID pause in Georgetown’s program.
The game will be Tuesday, April 6 at 1 PM. There’s currently no TV announced for that game.
The team will look to right the ship before resuming ACC play next Saturday, April 10 in the Dome against No. 7 Virginia Cavaliers, 11 AM on ACC Network.