The Northwestern Wildcats are no fools. They knew exactly what they were coming up against going into last weekend’s season-opening top-5 clash in the JMA Dome.
It was a Syracuse Orange offense that’s loaded with talent, welcomed a bunch of star players back from injuries, and led by their biggest star in Meaghan Tyrrell.
Stopping No. 18 was the clear top priority of their defensive game plan as they spent the entire game face-guarding her and sending extra defenders to her when she did get the ball. That strategy did not work, of course, as Meaghan finished the game with eight points, including a career-high six assists.
When a player scores eight points in a game to lead all scorers, you naturally assume that player spent a large portion of the game helping to create offense for her team, especially a player who’s so good with the ball in her cross.
But in the aftermath of the Orange’s thrilling 16-15 win over the Wildcats, I found myself thinking about how seemingly little Meaghan actually spent with the ball despite her impact on the game. So, this week, I re-watched the game, and here’s what I came away with:
First of all, I think we all remember that SU was out-possessed in this game by NW due in large part to the Wildcats’ domination on draws, where they more than doubled-up on wins, 23-11.
Because of that, I counted a significant possession advantage of 38-28 for the visitors. I got that number by only counting possessions that made it into the offensive area of the field. I didn’t count any “possession” that was won off the draw or in the defensive end but was then turned over in transition before the offense got a chance to attack.
So right off the bat, the ‘Cuse offense already had much less time on the ball. But now let’s go a little deeper to look at Meaghan’s possession, specifically.
Of the 28 Syracuse possessions, I counted 13 possessions in which Meaghan did not touch the ball at all and 15 in which she did. So, amazingly, she only factored into about half of the Orange chances because she was content to let the face-guard take effect and have her teammates take charge on the other half.
And we know she scored eight points, which means she helped the team to produce a goal more than half the time (8-of-15) that she touched the ball in this game. That incredible number would have been even better if not for a fantastic save by NW’s goalie and a crease violation that took away a couple prime scoring chances, as well.
Efficiency is nothing new for Meaghan, who last year finished the season fourth in Division I in shooting percentage at just below 60 percent (.595). None of the three players who finished in front of her came anywhere near 100 shots on the season, while she finished with 131.
Last weekend, Meaghan picked up 2023 right where she left off in 2022, except this game had a much more assist-centric focus for her.
Why was the the case? Probably because of the way NW chose to defend her. Aside from the face-guard, the Wildcats spent the first half sending double and even triple teams her way every time she actually did touch the ball.
On just her third touch of the game at the end of the first quarter, she picked up her first point on an assist to Meg Carney. She came up top and received the ball with just seconds to go in the quarter. As she settled in with the ball, two separate secondary defenders came to help with a triple team before Meaghan even began her dodge. By the time she started attacking the middle of the field, a huge space opened up about eight yards out in front of goal, and she found Carney for a very nice turnaround jump shot to tie the game right at the end of the quarter.
Meag ➡️ Meg— Syracuse Women's Lacrosse (@CuseWLAX) February 11, 2023
Later in the half, the Wildcats were down two players after a couple penalties and SU was playing 7-on-5 on offense. When the ball got worked around to Meaghan, the defenders still brought a double team to stop her attack even with a two-player deficit. She had her pick of the litter at that point, as roughly 3-4 of her teammates were wide open, and Meaghan picked out her sister for the finish.
After three assists in the first half, NW switched up the strategy for the second: they put a different player on the face-guard assignment, and decided not to bring the extra defender when she got the ball.
How did she respond? On ‘Cuse’s first possession of the second half, she received a pass from Carney behind the cage, and then circled around and dodged for goal. The defender thought she had pretty good positioning, especially since the dodge was coming from goal-line extended.
She did not. It took Meaghan exactly six seconds to score from the time she received the ball to the time she put it in the back of the net. Northwestern’s change in defensive strategy had blown up in their face in all of six seconds. After she scored, the defender literally turned to her teammates and shrugged her shoulders up as if to ask them what she did wrong. Nothing. She was simply guarding Meaghan Tyrrell.
As the game wound down, the Wildcats proved to be completely befuddled by the notion of defending against her. On the final two SU possessions of the game, Kayla Treanor had the offense run the exact same play: overload everyone on the left side of the field and leave Meaghan alone on the right before working the ball around to her and letting her attack with lots of open space.
On the first play, NW brought an immediate double team, which Meaghan made them pay for by finding her sister, who received the pass before curling around a desperately on-rushing defender to score. The second time, NW waited and brought the double team too late. Meaghan made them pay again, this time scoring by herself as she weaved between the defenders, switching hands and getting off the shot just in the nick of time to close out her extremely efficient day with an eighth point and a game-winning goal.
Sure, it’s only the first game, and perhaps the biggest test of the season is on the horizon this Friday when arguably the best defense in the country makes the trip up to the Dome, but I was just so blown away by this performance from Meaghan.
The ability she showed to inflict that much damage on a defense while having so little possession was nothing short of amazing. But, of course, that’s nothing new for one of the most efficient players in the country.