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Syracuse women’s lacrosse: Orange drop opener to Northwestern, 18-15, as valiant comeback falls short

Some key in-game adjustments helped change the script, but a disastrous first quarter doomed SU in their 2024 opener.

2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

You’ve got to give credit to the Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team: they fought hard.

The Orange women dropped the opening game of their 2024 season to the Northwestern Wildcats on the road on Saturday afternoon, 18-15, but the way it all went down was definitely eye-opening.

This game started with a first quarter in which ‘Cuse looked like they were going to get blown out of the water by the home team and defending national champs, who jumped out to an 8-2 advantage after 15 minutes. The scoreline was bad enough, but the Wildcats just looked unstoppable in the first quarter, slicing and dicing the Orange’s zone defense with expert precision. Their off-ball movement and back door cuts through the middle of the zone were immaculate, as was their passing.

I was worried that the running clock was going to start about mid-second quarter and never let up.

But that’s when the slow and steady march up the mountain began. At the outset of the second quarter, SU came out in a man defense that they would mostly run the rest of the way. It was a coaching decision that was both obvious if you watched the first quarter, and also critical as it was effective enough to help turn the tide of the game.

The Orange’s man defense surrendered 10 goals in the final three quarters after their zone gave up eight in the first, and it was a big factor in allowing ‘Cuse to actually win the score battle during the final 45 minutes, 13-10.

Oh, but for that waking nightmare of a first period.

However, I think the larger point is that it was encouraging to see some strong in-game adjustments made by the coaching staff and to see the players not get discouraged and just keep fighting their way back into the game.

It was a slow build at first, as the Orange won the second quarter, 4-3, and tied the third quarter, 4-4. It was great to see them on a more even playing field with the defending champs, but that score still added up to a 15-10 deficit after three.

But that’s where the comeback got kicked into overdrive. SU scored the first four goals of the fourth quarter to make it a 15-14 game with 8:16 left. They had themselves right in it, but ran out of gas with Northwestern scoring three straight goals to put it out of reach before SU tacked on one final tally in the final 10 seconds for the 18-15 final.

I’ll be interested to see the defensive game plan in the next game after what transpired today; was the move to man just because of how dominant NW was against the zone, or could it possibly be the better option moving forward?

One of the most interesting and exciting individual aspects of the game was the impact of freshman defender Kaci Benoit, who was the one tasked with marking and face-guarding Izzy Scane once the team switched to man. Benoit wasn’t perfect, but I think she did a pretty great job considering Scane, the scoring machine who finished with a hat trick, only had two goals after the defensive switch. Add in the fact that Kaci was playing in her first ever college game and was told to go face-guard the best player in the game, and that’s a recipe for a job well done by the youngster.

Like her defense and the team as a whole, Delaney Sweitzer got off to a very slow start in this one but was really looking like her old self again as the game wore on. Sweitzer finished with 13 saves and a .419 save percentage, but in the final three quarters she had 10 saves and a .500 save percentage.

Other than the awful first quarter, the biggest difference between these two teams was the draw circle, where the Wildcats dominated their way to a 24-13 advantage. Both Kate Mashewske and Olivia Adamson took draws in this game, but they were no match for Samantha Smith and the NW draw unit, which had five different players win at least three draws.

The offense got off to as bad a start as the defense, coming out very listless and directionless. They didn’t score a 7-on-7 goal until the early second quarter. They found a better rhythm as the game went on, but there’s lots of work to be done for the ball movement and cohesion of this unit after one game. They finished the game with seven assists on their 15 goals; not a terrible number, but it felt like too much dodging that didn’t accomplish much and not enough purposeful ball movement to get the defense on their heels.

When they did find a better rhythm, it was Olivia Adamson (6G on 7 shots) who led the charge, especially with Emma Ward (2G, 3A) getting face-guarded a lot by the Wildcat defense. Like any true superstar, though, she still found a way to score five points despite the attention she was receiving. Olivia also scored an absolute gem of a goal with a spectacular BTB finish from a difficult side angle to open the fourth quarter run.

Natalie Smith (3G, 1A) had a really good day with a hat trick and some pinpoint shooting, and Maddy Baxter (2G) made it a solid day for the senior midfielders with her pair of goals. Maryland transfer Emma Muchnick (1G) scored her first goal in Orange on a free position in the first quarter.

There’s obviously plenty to work on coming out of this one, but I thought the resiliency of this team to forge that kind of comeback on the road against probably the best team in the country is a very encouraging sign for their prospects once they clean up the issues from this game.

They’ll get their first chance to do just that this coming Wednesday, February 14 for a little Valentine’s Day matinee when they host former ‘Cuse star Michelle Tumolo’s Army at 4 PM on ACC Network Extra.