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Syracuse women’s lacrosse: Florida NCAA Tournament quarterfinal preview

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The Orange are looking to get back to the Final Four, but standing in their way is a very dangerous Florida team.

Boston College v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

The march toward Memorial Day weekend and the first Final Four since 2016 will continue for the No. 3 Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team when they host the No. 6 Florida Gators in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals this Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN 3.

The game is actually taking place at SU Soccer Stadium instead of the Dome due to Syracuse’s commencement festivities. This is a regular occurrence for the team to deal with come tournament time, but this year it’s taking place a week later than in normally does.

Regardless of the venue, we’ve got an exciting matchup between two high-flying teams with a Final Four berth on the line, so let’s take a look a what to watch for this Saturday:

Series History

Syracuse and Florida have met 11 times, with the Orange holding a 7-4 edge in the series. The teams played each other every regular season from 2011-2019, plus in the NCAA tournaments with the 2012 semifinals and the 2013 quarterfinals. Both tournament meetings were SU victories.

Syracuse assistant coach Sydney Pirreca is very familiar with this series. Pirreca, who’s in her second season on the SU coaching staff, is a 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and played in three games (2016-18) in the series in her time in college.

Pirreca had an amazing career with the Gators. She was a four-year starter, two-time captain, two-time All-American, and is the sixth-leading scorer in program history with 215 points.

Let’s hope that her four years in Gainesville can bring some insight to the game-plan for coach Gary Gait in how to attack and defend coach Amanda O’Leary’s squad.

Scouting Florida

The Gators had an incredible regular season, finishing 18-2 on their way to going undefeated in AAC play to win the regular season and conference tournament titles.

Frighteningly, they’ve won 15 games in a row, many of them in dominating fashion. In fact, only twice during their win streak has a team finished within 10 goals of them. Yikes!

Now, granted, Syracuse is a big step up in competition from any team they’ve played during the win streak, so that’s certainly a factor. However, they’re clearly a good team capable of dominating their inferior opponents just like SU does.

Florida ranks right near the top of the country in both scoring offense and scoring defense, so the Orange are going to have their hands full on both ends of the field.

The Gators rank third in the country in scoring offense (17.2 goals per game) and second in scoring defense (6.5 goals against per game). Additionally, they rank third in the country in two other key offensive categories: shooting percentage (51.1 percent) and free-position percentage (56.2 percent).

The Orange gave up 12 free-position opportunities to Loyola last week. Thankfully, the Greyhounds did a poor job, only converting 1-of-12. But the bottom line is that SU must clean up the fouls and shooting-space violations that give away all the free-position chances. Giving that many chances to a team that converts over 50 percent is just giving away goals, something the Orange can’t afford to do against an already talented offense in Florida.

The Gators’ offense is led by a trio of big-time point producers in Shannon Kavanagh (76G, 19A), Brianna Harris (47G, 43A) and Grace Haus (62G, 16A). They also have four other players who reached the mid-30s in points for the season, so they’ve got a lot of talent at the top but also a lot of depth for a well-rounded group on offense.

Defensively, Florida’s goalie, Sarah Reznick led the country in save percentage by stopping an absurd 58.7 percent of the shots she faced. Just for comparison sake, Asa Goldstock ranked tied for 33rd in the country with a 45.4 save percentage. That’s an eye-opening statistic, especially considering how highly we all think of Asa. Those numbers can be a little misleading given the level of competition Florida faced in many of their games versus what Syracuse faced in the ACC gauntlet, but a high-50s save percentage in the women’s game is an unreal number no matter what.

Reznick is going to be a force. As an example, she made 16 saves while only surrendering 11 goals versus North Carolina back in February. Yes, that North Carolina. So, clearly, she’s not just a stat compiler against weak competition. The Orange shooters have quite the task in front of them come Saturday.

Orange offense keeps rolling

The season-ending injuries to Emily Hawryschuk and Megan Carney have been well-documented by this point.

Something else that’s been well-documented? The Syracuse offense is still somehow really good even without arguably their two best players. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

Syracuse has played 18 games this year, and I’m going to break them down into the 13 games before Megan Carney’s injury, and the five games since. I’m also going to exclude both North Carolina games because I want to focus on how the Orange have done against non-”boss level” competition.

  • 12 non-UNC games before Carney’s injury: 16.3 goals per game
  • 4 non-UNC games since Carney’s injury: 16 goals per game

It’s a much smaller sample size, but the offense has clearly somehow kept its pace despite the major losses it has sustained over the course of this season.

One of the big reasons for the offense maintaining is the emergence of Emma Tyrrell, who was a nice complementary player for much of the season but has burst into a starring role for this offense since Carney’s injury. The difference in her numbers is stark: before Carney’s injury, Emma was averaging 1.9 points per game, but since, she’s exploded for an average of 4.2 points per game in the five games. She also leads the team with 17 goals since Carney went down, so nobody (including big sister Meaghan) has stepped up more to help this offense keep rolling.

Defense stepping up, too

It is not just the offense that has kept the Syracuse season rolling in the wake of the Carney injury. After a bit of a mid-season swoon (by their lofty standards), the SU defense has really tightened up in recent weeks.

In four out of their last five games, the Orange defense has held their opponents to single-digits, including limiting the almighty UNC offense to nine.

Asa Goldstock has been leading the way with some of her best performances of the season, no surprise for the graduate student leader of this team whose been starting since day one of her career.

But the defense in front of her has been huge, as well. Simply put, they’ve continued to do what they do best: force turnovers to limit scoring opportunities and make life very difficult for opposing shooters, dodgers cutters, especially those who dare to venture into the middle of the zone that can collapse on you at any moment.

The Florida offense is strong, potent and shoots a very high percentage, so forcing turnovers and limiting their shots is going to be as important as its been all season. And, of course, limit the amount of free-position chances.

That’s enough talk. It’s time for a game between two high-powered offense and two lockdown defenses. You’re not going to find too many matchups in the country better than this one.

So settle in for quarterfinal Saturday, and Let’s Go Orange!!!