Even during a COVID-shortened 2020 season, Syracuse women’s lacrosse coach Gary Gait said the Orange learned a powerful lesson that played a pivotal role in Friday’s NCAA Division I semifinals.
They were capable of slowing offensive-juggernaut Northwestern.
“We went in and played them, and we beat them at home in one of the last games of the year,” Gait said of the game before last season’s pandemic shutdown. “I think it gave us confidence that we could [play with] these guys.”
Facing the nation’s top scoring offense, Syracuse did just that Friday, racing to an early eight-goal load, then staving off previously unbeaten Northwestern’s second-half comeback attempt in a 21-13 win before an announced sellout of 5,100 at Towson University.
Third-seeded Syracuse (17-3) held the Wildcats (15-1) to a season low in goals to advance to Sunday’s noon final, where it will face No. 4-seed Boston College, an 11-10 winner over top-seeded North Carolina in the other semifinal. The tournament’s top two seeds, which both entered the day unbeaten, were both eliminated.
Gait credited his team’s defense for doing its part.
“That first half of defense was amazing; the best half I think we’ve played all year,” Gait said. “It gave us the opportunity to get a run going and get up on these guys, and then that really built some confidence.”
Trailing by a goal early, Syracuse took command by scoring five straight over a span of 13 minutes, including back-to-back goals by Tewaaraton Award finalist Meaghan Tyrrell, who finished with five goals and three assists.
“When they scored that first goal against us, it kind of lit a fire underneath us,” sophomore Emma Tyrrell said. “I feel like after that happened we wanted to score three or four on them, and that’s exactly what happened.”
By the time freshman Maddy Baxter converted her free position with 5:24 left in the first half, Syracuse’s lead had ballooned to 10-2.
Trailing, 14-6, Northwestern rallied, turning up its intensity on defense, winning loose balls and scoring six of the next seven goals, including a pair by sophomore Jane Hansen, to cut the deficit to three.
Only Asa Goldstock’s point-blank save off a high shot from the curling Sammy Mueller kept the score from getting even tighter, and Syracuse’s offense then came alive with consecutive goals in quick succession by Meaghan Tyrell, Emily Ehle and Sam Swart to put the game out of reach.
Swart and Emma Tyrrell also added three goals each for Syracuse, while junior Izzy Scane led the Wildcats with four goals and three assists.
“They’re definitely a good defense,” Scane said. “They’re high pressure and swarm, but I think more of the problem was just our offense playing a little scared knowing that’s what their defense was going to do. I think if we had played, completely, our game, it would’ve been a little different. … It was not a great time to not have our best day.”
Syracuse, which is seeking its first championship after losing twice in the final, won two out of three games with Boston College this season, including a 19-17 win in the ACC semifinals. Lack of familiarity in the final won’t be an issue.
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“I mean, coming off of playing them four times [including 2020], we’re pretty familiar with them and what they run and what they do,” Meaghan Tyrrell said. “Kind of building off some mistakes we made with previous games and capitalizing on the things we did during those previous games is definitely going to be a game changer for us.”