On Sunday afternoon in the ACC Tournament championship game, the Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team came up short of their first ACC title since 2015, falling to the No. 1 and undefeated North Carolina Tar Heels, 9-4.
Not the result we wanted but we’ll get back to work for the NCAA Tournament. pic.twitter.com/oK78q0BEqj— Syracuse Women's Lax (@CuseWLAX) May 2, 2021
The Orange put forth an inspired defensive effort in holding the Tar Heels to a season-low nine goals; the only team this season to hold UNC to single-digits, and their lowest total in a game since 2019.
The defense did everything they possibly could to give themselves a chance to win the game against one of the best offenses in the country. Asa Goldstock was incredible, making 11 saves as she continues to come up huge in the season’s stretch run. Kerry Defliese knocked down what felt like every pass that she was near enough to defend. As a unit, they packed in their defense to make movement difficult for the Tar Heels.
At the end of the day, though, the Orange just couldn’t get enough going on their offensive end to pick up the win. After the game, coach Gary Gait had this to say about his team’s performance:
“I thought that our defense played an amazing game. They were tremendous today. Asa Goldstock, in goal, kept us in it, kept giving us us a chance to try and crawl back and get even with them. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done on the offensive end. I think we had enough opportunities, but we weren’t finishing our shots and we weren’t putting the ball in the back of the net. We played with a little lack of confidence”.
On that very last part, Gait hesitated as he spoke. But I actually think what he said was spot on in reference to the offense.
The UNC defense is the best in the country. They came in giving up just over six goals per game, the best number in Division I. Their defense isn’t just great, it’s so great that there is an air of intimidation surrounding them. Goalie Taylor Moreno and defenders Emma Trenchard and Caroline Wakefield lead the way for a group that strikes fear into opposition. They know how good they are, and so do their opponents.
You could see it in the way the Orange offense attacked in the game, which is to say, timidly. They seemed cautious and reluctant to attack and shoot at times, leading to turnovers and late shot clocks. I haven’t seen so many Syracuse shots sail wide and high in one game all season, and my guess is that Moreno’s presence was the cause for those wild shots. Knowing that Moreno is a goalie who can make any stop at any time, the Syracuse shooters tried extra hard to ping the corners, leading to missed shots.
Don’t believe me on that? The numbers tell the story. SU came into this game shooting 79 percent of their shots on goal. In this game? They put 41 percent on goal. That's absolutely awful. Their previous low for SOG% was 68 percent in the first Boston College game. 41 percent SOG just doesn’t happen in the women’s game, but it did against UNC today. Why? The intimidation factor. Taylor Moreno is so good, she prevents you from even getting shots on cage. Should they meet again this season, the SU offense is going to need to shake that factor off and play their game.
A major concern for Syracuse coming out of this game is SU’s free-position opportunities. In this game, the Orange went 1-for-6 on free-positions. On the season, they’re only converting 42 percent. That’s well below the 50 percent threshold that you want to be above.
Free-positions have been basically the only consistent weakness all season for this team, and it is one area that the team is going to need to work on improving for the NCAA tournament.
Simply put, when you are playing against a defense as good as UNC’s, you need to take advantage of every opportunity given to you. In this game, the Orange didn’t do that. And, by the way, that 1-for-6 doesn’t even take into account the free-positions where the team didn't even try to score and instead pulled the ball back out the resume the offense.
For a team with this much talent on offense, they simply have to be more successful on free-positions. Take advantage of the opportunities given to you.
Tyrrell and Ward connect for the goal.— Syracuse Women's Lax (@CuseWLAX) May 2, 2021
Tune in to ACC Network for the second-half action. pic.twitter.com/N0L1T9p6YD
The Orange opened the scoring when Emily Ehle curled around the top of the eight-meter arc and took a flip pass from Emma Ward before finishing nicely just under five minutes in.
That would be the last success the offense would find for a while, however, as the Tar Heels scored the next three goals and the Orange went on an extended drought. It wouldn’t be until the final minute of the first half when SU tallied a second, ending a scoreless streak of almost 25 minutes on an Emma Ward, woman-up goal. Unfortunately, the Tar Heels fired back with 11 seconds left in the half to take a 4-2 lead into the break.
The teams traded goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half, as the Orange couldn’t break through the two-goal barrier the rest of the game. SU’s third goal was a spectacular effort from Emma Tyrrell, who took a pass from Emma Ward and backhand-shoveled a shot past Moreno for a highlight reel goal.
SU didn’t score in the final 15 minutes as UNC tallied the final three goals to arrive at the 9-4 final.
Syracuse All-Tournament Team honorees:— Syracuse Women's Lax (@CuseWLAX) May 2, 2021
Three Syracuse players were named to the All-Tournament team along with five from North Carolina, two from Boston College and two from Notre Dame.
Congratulations to the trio. All three played some of their best lacrosse of the season this week down in Chapel Hill, so the honors are very well earned.
Goldstock has achieved a 55 percent save percentage in three of the last four games. She’s playing her strongest lacrosse of the season given the gravity of these games. Defliese is an absolute turnover machine for this Syracuse defense. She makes deflections all over the place and takes away scoring opportunities in the process. Ward, similarly, is saving her best for postseason play. On an offense searching for leaders to step up in the big moments with Emily Hawryschuk and Megan Carney injured, true freshman Emma Ward is stepping up as much if not more than anyone on this offense.
The Orange will now go home and await their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
The selection show is next Sunday, May 9. I don’t know the specifics of it yet, but I believe it’s sometime at night on ESPNU.
Despite the disappointment of this loss, there is good news coming out of the ACC Tournament for the Orange. Their rubber-match win over BC in the semifinals makes SU a lock for a top-3 seed in the NCAA’s, which means they’ll be one of three teams to get a bye while the other 26 teams in the tournament play in the first round.
Obviously, North Carolina will be the No. 1 overall seed, and SU will join them in in the top-3. The final bye should be between BC and undefeated Northwestern, who has played a significantly weaker, Big-Ten-only schedule. I think it probably should be BC who gets it, but it’s really difficult to pin down where the committee will slot the Wildcats, who haven’t lost but also haven’t played a schedule even close to that of any of their ACC counterparts.
For my money, the Orange should be slotted as the No. 2 seed courtesy of their rubber match win over BC. But would I be totally shocked if the committee put Northwestern there as undefeated, Big Ten champions? It wouldn’t be right, but I can at least imagine Northwestern anywhere from 2-4.
It should be fun to see it all play out, and it’ll be very fun to see the Orange’s NCAA tournament path mapped out for us next Sunday. Can’t wait!
Until then, as always, Let’s Go Orange!!!