The Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team is headed back to the Final Four!
For the first time since 2016, the ladies have made it to Memorial Day weekend thanks to their 17-11 victory over No. 6 seeded Florida Gators in the NCAA quarterfinals at SU Soccer Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
It’s the eighth Final Four in program history, all of which have come under head coach Gary Gait.
Smile if you're going to championship weekend pic.twitter.com/0YxBjSnzLD— Syracuse Women's Lacrosse (@CuseWLAX) May 22, 2021
After a 5-5 first half in which SU struggled to find rhythm on offense, the Orange exploded for a 12-goal second half, outscoring the Gators by six to propel themselves on to the NCAA tournament semifinals.
This was one of the most physical, hard-fought games of the year for the Orange, who took a beating from a tough Florida defense that picked up four yellow cards for the game. But the Orange were not deterred, eventually wearing down the Gators behind huge days from a trio of stars, especially one very special freshman.
Emma Ward had a career-high six goals and tied her career-high with seven points, including a stable of laser-beam, highlight-reel shots and goals. The Tyrrell sisters also had big days with six points each, as Emma finished with four goals and two assists, and Meaghan had three of each.
Emily Ehle added three assists, while Sam Swart had a pair of goals. Freshman Jenny Markey and Maddy Baxter each scored a goal to round out the scoring on the day.
Ella Simkins had another unsung hero day for SU, picking up six draw control wins and two ground balls while playing strong defense to help the team in every way a non-offensive player can. Kerry Defliese also had a strong day with four ground balls and two turnovers to help lead a good defensive effort in holding the Gators to only 11 goals.
Highlights from our quarterfinal win pic.twitter.com/zpaQgOZYEj— Syracuse Women's Lacrosse (@CuseWLAX) May 22, 2021
The teams played to a draw in the opening 30 minutes, with neither scoring more than two goals in a row and going to halftime knotted at five.
The game opened fast as Florida scored just 20 seconds in, taking the draw control win and charging right down for the score before the Syracuse defense could get settled.
Meaghan Tyrrell got the Orange on the board a few minutes later with a nice free-position finish. Emma Ward had her own fantastic finish on a free-position about seven minutes in, going upper 90 for the snipe and the 2-1 SU lead.
A spinning finish from Meaghan Tyrrell and a woman-up goal from Sam Swart gave ‘Cuse a 4-2 lead a little under 20 minutes in, but Florida closed the half strong by scoring three of the final four goals to make it 5-5 at the break.
And then, the Orange offense finally started to click. After scoring only five in the entire first half, they scored five in the opening eight and a half minutes of the second to jump out to a 10-5 lead that essentially put the game out of reach.
It was the Emma’s who lead the second half surge. Ward and Tyrrell scored the first four goals of the second, seven of the first eight, and nine of the 12 overall in the final 30 minutes.
If you're name is Emma, you're having yourself a day— Syracuse Women's Lacrosse (@CuseWLAX) May 22, 2021
Watch on ESPN3 pic.twitter.com/dSUiOCsJrz
It was an incredible performance, especially from Emma Ward, whose absolute cannon of a shot was seen time and again on the afternoon.
More than just her great shot, Ward brings the swag for the Orange. On her fourth goal of the day, which ballooned the Syracuse lead to 12-6, Ward fired one home on the run, stick-dropped while back-pedaling, and gave a Michael Jordan-shrug as her teammates ran over to her. You absolutely love to see it! (which you can, below)
Creating space and shootin' rockets— Syracuse Women's Lacrosse (@CuseWLAX) May 22, 2021
Watch on ESPN3 pic.twitter.com/50F6p8jSZW
After the Ward goal that increased the lead to 12-6, Florida did go on a little bit of a run by scoring four of the next five to bring it to 13-10. The Gators actually won the ensuing draw and had a chance to make it a two-goal game, but they turned it over, and the Orange came down and put it out of reach for good on a Sam Swart goal. ‘Cuse would score four of the last five to go back up by six and win, 17-11.
This was a big test for this Syracuse team. Florida is a really good all-around squad. From their fast-moving offense highlighted by constant cutters and good passing to their strong defense led by one of the best goalies in the country, the Gators are a no-joke kind of opponent that presented the Orange a difficult task that they passed beautifully.
What a difference a half(time) makes
And you also love to see the improvement from half one to half two from this offense. After committing 10 turnovers in the first half and only shooting 29 percent (5-of-17), they only committed four turnovers all second half while shooting a phenomenal 67 percent (12-of-18).
That is one halftime speech that Gary Gait might want to remember. Or maybe the team just needed a break from the heat to get it in gear. However it happened, awesome second half!
Summer in Syracuse
Who says the weather’s bad in Syracuse?
On a hot and humid preview of summer in Central New York, we picked a fine day for the ladies to play outside with the commencement preparation taking place in the Dome.
It lead to a lot of rolled up sleeves and fatigue playing a bigger role than normal.
You’d think it might actually give Florida an advantage, since they’re the team that plays outside, on grass, and in the heat with more regularity than Syracuse.
Thankfully, the heat didn’t cool off the Orange offense one bit.
We’re (Not) Going Streaking!
This is the second week in a row that ‘Cuse has put a stop to an extended winning streak for their opponent.
In their second round game against Loyola last week, the Orange halted the Greyhounds 12-game winning streak that stretched back to early March.
In this one, they axed Florida’s 15-game winning streak.
Oh, speaking of...
The Final Four, duh!
The Orange advance on for a semifinal matchup that we’ve all been waiting for. They will take on the undefeated, No. 2 seeded Northwestern Wildcats this Friday, May 28 down at Towson University.
The game will be televised on ESPN U. We don’t yet know the time slot, but it will be an afternoon game, likely either at Noon or 2:30 p.m. ET.
The Wildcats are 14-0. We all know they played a pretty weak regular season schedule since they could only play Big Ten games, but they are undeniably a great team.
They dispatched Duke in their quarterfinal game earlier on Saturday, 22-10. They were actually losing 6-1 before closing the game on a stupidly good 21-4 run. Now that’s just crazy.
So, the Orange will have their hands full in what is sure to be an incredible lacrosse game between two of the best teams in the country.
Get yourself ready because we are kicking off Memorial Day weekend with some fantastic lacrosse action. Tune in to cheer the ladies on in the Final Four this Friday, and Let’s Go Orange!!!