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Syracuse women’s lacrosse vs. Northwestern: A history

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A familiar foe, with familiar stakes.

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The Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team is headed back to the Final Four after defeating Florida over the weekend. That’s eventful enough on its own, but this group clearly has larger goals in mind, like its first NCAA Tournament title.

Standing in the way of that first will be a familiar opponent: the 2-seed Northwestern Wildcats. While the teams didn’t see one another this season (the Big Ten had conference-only play), there’s quite a bit of history here — both in the regular season and in the NCAA Tournament.

All-time, Syracuse is only 6-14 against Northwestern in a series that began in 2003 and saw the teams meet every year from 2006-2020 before the pandemic ended that streak this season.

To make matters worse, SU is 0-4 all-time vs. Northwestern in postseason games, which includes a 2008 Final Four loss and the 2012 defeat in the national championship game.

While the overall numbers are not good, recent times have been much kinder for the Orange. Let’s take a look at a breakdown of the series history:

  • First game: Syracuse wins 14-3
  • Next 11 games: Northwestern goes 11-0
  • Final eight games: Syracuse leads 5-3

So, SU actually won the first ever game between the teams in 2003 with an emphatic 11-goal victory. Unfortunately, that initial meeting would not be a harbinger of good times to come as the Wildcats would go on a run of 11 straight wins from 2006-2013 that included three postseason wins.

Two of those postseason games were actually major milestones for the ‘Cuse program. 2008’s 16-8 loss was SU’s first-ever appearance in the Final Four, taking place in Gary Gait’s first year as head coach. 2012’s 8-6 loss in the finals was SU’s first-ever appearance in the national championship game.

Unfortunately, both milestones ended in defeat at the hands of a Northwestern program in the midst of one of the most dominant runs in the sport’s history, winning seven of eight national titles from 2005-2012. No wonder we lost 11 times in a row to them in almost that exact same timeframe!

The losing streak finally came to an end when the 2014 Syracuse team, destined for a run to a second national title game in program history, beat Northwestern, 11-7. The 2014 game kicked off a nice resurgence for SU in the series that has brought us up to this weekend.

From 2014-2020, the Orange won five of the eight games played, including last season’s 16-11 road victory before spring sports got shut down.

Even in this recent stretch of success, however, SU has not been able to shake the postseason troubles against the Wildcats. The most recent NCAA tournament in 2019 ended for Syracuse in the quarterfinals with an 18-14 loss to Northwestern.

Taking the step into greatness for a program requires overcoming your biggest demons from the past. Well, no program (save for Maryland) has been that to Syracuse more than the Northwestern Wildcats.

They have a firm lead in the all-time series. Two of our first three trips to Final Four weekend stopped-short because of them. Four times, they’ve stood in the way of our pursuit of the ultimate prize.

This weekend brings the next opportunity exercise the demons of tournaments past. For a team that has defied the odds so many times this year, it seems a fitting challenge.

It’s also fitting that Syracuse and Northwestern would meet in a year they couldn’t play in the regular season to continue their streak of consecutive years playing each other.

Only one question remains: can the Orange continue the series by putting a stop to the postseason ownership the Wildcats currently have?

Tune into ESPNU on Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET to find out, and Let’s Go Orange!!!