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No. 4 Syracuse women’s lacrosse falls just short against No. 1 North Carolina, 14-12

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The short-handed Orange put forth a strong effort against the top team in the country.

Jack Wallace

You have got to hand it to the Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse program: no matter what obstacles keep getting thrown in their way, this team just keeps fighting.

That’s exactly what they did on Saturday afternoon in the Dome when the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels came calling. Unfortunately, SU ultimately fell to the top-ranked Tar Heels by a score of 14-12, but the Orange put together a really strong effort in defeat and gave us a fantastic game of lacrosse in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a women’s lacrosse game in the Carrier Dome.

I don’t know about anybody else, but I walk away from this game with an overwhelming sense of pride in the fight that our women’s lacrosse team has. How many times in the last two years have the lacrosse gods punished them with injuries only for them to keep going like nothing happened?

I know, I know: they lost. But let’s consider the setup to this game. Earlier this week, this team lost one of its best and most important players in Emma Tyrrell for the season, joining the unfortunate list that already includes Emma Ward and Sierra Cockerille. While Meg Carney was back for the first half of this game, she once again left the game early because of injury.

That’s four starters, FOUR! All of them offensive players, and all missing from this game with the exception of Carney in the first half. That’s an incredible amount of talent absent from a game against the best team we’ve played all year.

And yet, this team came out and competed. They continue to be a clinic in typifying the next-woman-up mentality. They threw home 12 goals against one of the best defenses in the country. They held the top-scoring offense in the country to a low-for-them 14 goals. Sure, mistakes were made and chances were missed with some poorly times turnovers and defensive lapses that gave Carolina enough breathing room to hold on for the win.

But, bottom line: It was a really impressive effort; one that filled me with hope that this team can compete with the best in the sport. I wasn’t sure about it heading into today, but this effort shows that Syracuse belongs in the conversation.

The offense was led on the day by a great game from Meaghan Tyrrell, who scored six points (4G, 2A) as the focal point of UNC’s defensive efforts, against probably the best defender in the game in Emma Trenchard. All four of her goals were just phenomenal individual efforts where she used her strength, her shiftiness and her cunning beat Trenchard and goalie Taylor Moreno.

Perhaps no ‘Cuse player had a more encouraging or exciting game than Natalie Smith, a midfielder whose operated in a backup capacity all season. With the injury to Emma, a starting spot opened up and Natalie just claimed it with her performance today. All day long, no player outside of Meaghan looked more dangerous attacking UNC than Natalie, who used her incredible speed and quickness to blow past her defenders multiple times for goals. She also displayed an amazing ability to shoot on the run, and the combination of that plus her speed can be a deadly one moving forward.

Last season, it was Emma Tyrrell who stepped up big in the wake of Carney’s season-ending injury. Now, Emma needs someone else to step up for her. Natalie Smith just made a terrific opening statement for that with her hat trick against the Tar Heels.

On the whole, the ‘Cuse offense did a great job of finding success using isolation, a formation we see them run when the six players who don’t have the ball vacate one side of the field, leaving the player with the ball one-on-one with her defender. The Orange attackers did a nice job of dodging out of this formation and winning their individual matchups to find the back of the net. Only two of the 12 goals on the day were assisted for SU, and both on identical beautiful feeds from Meaghan to a cutting Olivia Adamson. We tend to think of a lack of assists as a sign that an offense had a bad day, but the Orange made it work pretty well for them in this matchup with Carolina’s top-shelf defense.

The first half of this game was a story of Syracuse’s volume versus North Carolina’s efficiency. While the Orange dominated draw controls and offensive possessions to reach their seven first half goals, the Tar Heels relied on near-perfect execution in limited chances to reach their seven.

At halftime, you got the feeling that unless the Orange were able to continue to dominate possessions all game, that UNC would be able to take advantage in the second half. That is kind of what happened, especially early in the third quarter.

After the first connection between Tyrrell and Adamson opened the second-half scoring, the Tar Heels scored four goals in a row in less than five minutes to take a three-goal lead, which in this tight game felt like a huge gap.

They did it by playing make-it-take-it, finally gaining an advantage on draws over SU to maximize their possessions and keep the pressure on the Orange defense. It was looking like this would be the time when the Tar Heels would start to run away, but this is where SU really started to fight back. Back-to-back goals brought them back within one before a brutal free-position goal in the waning seconds of the third put UNC back up by two.

They’d go back up by three in the opening minute of the fourth, but again ‘Cuse was not done fighting. Meaghan and Natalie would score back-to-back goals again to bring SU back to 13-12 with three minutes left in the game.

UNC would win the ensuing draw control and score again. SU had one final chance to bring it back within one, but Taylor Moreno stonewalled Olivia, and the Tar Heels ran out the clock on a great game of lacrosse.

The ladies will be back in action looking to get back in the win column this coming Tuesday, April 12 when they hit the road to play Cornell in Ithaca for a 7 PM game that will be on ESPN+.