Recent Road Trip Reminds Syracuse of Defensive Shortcomings

Tuesday, Mar 22, 2022 at 6:27 pm by Sports Editor

By: Ian Nicholas | @IanNicholas25
CitrusTV Women’s Lacrosse Beat Reporter

For the first time this season, Syracuse Women’s Lacrosse has fallen in the national rankings. The Orange (7-2, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) now sit at No. 5 on Inside Lacrosse’s latest Division One Poll. Through the first five weeks of the campaign, SU had stayed put at No. 3, compiling a 6-1 record with a pair of top-10 wins. But after No. 13 Florida stunned Syracuse in Gainesville 14-10 last Wednesday, the doubt about this squad’s elite status rose. When you suffer your first loss to a non top-10 opponent in over two years, that’ll happen.

It almost seemed as if SU’s luck had run out during the second leg of its recent three-game road trip. Before then, in Charlottesville on March 12, Syracuse played a complete game against No. 14 Virginia. The Orange had seven different goal-scorers, including five with multiple tallies in the 17-11 win. But more importantly, the SU defense did enough to keep UVA at bay and allow its own offense to shine. In her second career start, redshirt junior goalie Kimber Hower recorded five saves with a .313 save percentage. Her defense overall recovered 18 ground balls and forced 11 turnovers. But four days later against UF, Syracuse’s defenders folded early. After the first quarter, Florida led 6-1, primarily because the Gators connected on six of their eight shots. For the game, SU took two more shots and had three more shots on goal than UF. But while Gators All-American netminder Sarah Reznick corralled 11 saves against 10 goals allowed, the Orange’s combination of Hower and Junior Delaney Swietzer stuffed only four shots while allowing 14 to go in. That makes for a woeful .222 save percentage.

Despite allowing seven goals in 18 minutes against Florida, Hower would make her fourth consecutive start against No. 24 Virginia Tech on Saturday. Coach Kayla Treanor’s faith in the North Carolina transfer was rewarded, as Hower recorded her highest save percentage in a start so far this season (.444). Syracuse’s defense took plenty of pressure off its inexperienced goaltender, as Tech only had nine shots on goal all game long.

In SU’s two losses this season, the defense has emerged as the culprit. Against Northwestern, Syracuse allowed three unanswered goals in the final 3:24 of regulation before losing in overtime. Hower and Sweitzer made only three saves with a combined .158 save percentage. And although the Orange offense got off to a slow start against the Gators this past week, it didn’t help that Florida had a 4-0 lead just five minutes into the contest. Syracuse could easily be 5-4 right now if its high powered offense didn’t overcome a late defensive collapse against Notre Dame (who scored seven fourth-quarter goals) or an unbelievably slow start versus Duke (who scored nine first-quarter goals). The Orange had to score a combined 35 times in those two matchups to come away with extremely tight wins.

Syracuse can score with the best of them, and the combination of Kate Mashewske, Emma Tyrrell, and All-American Sarah Cooper can more than compete in the draw circle. However, the Orange defense is still a step behind over halfway through 2022. With top-ten showdowns with No. 7 Loyola and No. 1 North Carolina on the horizon over the next three weeks, the question is this: which SU defense will veteran defensive coordinator Caitlin Defliese see when she flips on the tape? The defense that held strong against Virginia, Virginia Tech, and even Stony Brook back in February? Or the defense described in the paragraph above? The combination of Cooper, Katie Goodale, Hallie Simkins, and Kara Gray have shown promise at times. Whether this defense (and its goaltenders) can rise to the occasion over the next few weeks is the question that needs to be answered.