Gary Gait must have been feeling pretty good about his Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse program last May, all things considered.
About that time, he had learned that 10 of his 11 seniors from the shortened 2020 season intended to come back for their extra year of eligibility, ensuring some of his most important players would return to lead one of the strongest all-around rosters in Division I women’s lacrosse.
Little did he know the litany of serious injuries that were headed the way of his players over the course of the next season.
It started before the 2021 season even got underway, with graduate student midfielder and team captain Vanessa Costantino suffering an injury that prevented her from seeing the field at all this year.
Then, the ACL injury to graduate student attack Emily Hawryschuk, one of the best players in the country, in practice after the opening game of the season.
And finally, the April 22 ACL tear to junior attack Megan Carney on a dodge attempt in the second half of game one against Boston College.
Three hugely important players. Three devastating, season-ending injuries.
The kinds of injuries and absences that usually derail a team’s season, leaving everyone wondering what-if.
But there’s nothing usual about the 2021 edition of the Syracuse women’s lacrosse team, something they have proven over and over as this season has progressed.
The Orange opened the season down in Baltimore, MD, without Costantino, but an otherwise fully-loaded roster led by Hawryschuk at attack. This team made a statement right out of the gates about who they were, going scorched earth on the No. 4 ranked Loyola Greyhounds with a 18-6 victory. In short, they were a force to be reckoned with.
One week later, on the morning of the home opener against No. 5 Stony Brook, it was announced that Hawryschuk would not be playing due to an injury she suffered in practice during the week. It would, of course, be revealed the following week that she suffered a torn ACL and was done for the season.
The Orange went out in that home opener and beat Stony Brook by 10 goals in a game that was over well before halftime. Obviously, the injury news was devastating for Emily and for the team, but the beatdown levied against the No. 5 ranked team in the country provided a comfort upon hearing the diagnosis. I wonder what else this team can accomplish even with Emily on the sideline?
Quite a bit, it turns out.
In the next 11 games, ‘Cuse would go 10-1, beating five top-10 teams with the only loss coming against the possibly-unstoppable North Carolina Tar Heels. All of this without the team’s best player and one of the best players in the entire country.
Then came the final weekend of the regular season against Boston College, a massive two-game series with second place in the ACC on the line. SU would lose the first game by one while losing Carney for the season in the process. At the end of the game, I stared at the TV, emotionally preparing myself to say so long to the hopes and dreams of the season.
Two days later, SU came out and beat up the same BC team they just lost to, throwing down a 16-7 result in their first game without both Hawryschuk and Carney. It took exactly one game for this team to show everyone that they were not simply going to fade into the background of this season.
Then came the ACC tournament, where the Orange made it to the final before falling to North Carolina again, picking up two more wins including a barn-burner of a rubber match with BC in the semifinals.
The team now starts their final postseason run, this Sunday at 1 PM on ESPN 3, against the winner of the Loyola-Hofstra game later today.
They are entering into the most important part of their season without arguably their two best players, but with the same mental toughness and fighting spirit they have displayed all season long.
I don't know about anyone else, but I have never seen a team continue to be this good amidst the chaos of losing two players like this in-season. I can't think of another example of a team suffering this level of attrition and not experiencing a drop-off, still being one of the best teams in the sport.
Because that’s exactly what this Syracuse team is. It’s one of the best teams in the country, maybe THE best team not named North Carolina. Without Vanessa Costantino. Without Emily Hawryschuk. Without Meg Carney.
Sure, the overall offensive production has gone down a little as the injuries have gone up, but that’s unavoidable when you lose players of this caliber. What hasn’t gone down is the winning.
They started the year 1-0 with both Hawryschuk and Carney playing. Then they went 10-2 with Carney and without Hawryschuk. And now they’ve gone 3-1 with them both out. They went 0-1 vs. BC with Carney, and 2-0 without her. They played the Tar Heels better the second time, with Carney on the sideline.
Go figure. This team just keeps trucking no matter what happens.
It takes a special group to do what they’ve done this season. To stare down the barrel of adversity multiple different times, but keep rolling like it was nothing. To be one of the best, despite losing their own best.
The leadership. The chemistry. The togetherness. The next-woman-up mentality. Most teams could not accomplish what they have against all these setbacks.
That’s what makes this team truly unique. Only one thing left to do...