Syracuse Field Hockey: NCAA Tournament Preview

Monday, Nov 06, 2023 at 1:20 pm by Sports Editor

By Max Gifford | @GiffMD

In a season where the odds have seemed stacked against Syracuse field hockey, the 10-7 Orange are going dancing in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season. SU received one of the eight at-large bids in the 2023 field along with Duke, Iowa, Liberty, Louisville, Maryland, Rutgers, and Virginia.

The ‘Cuse is one of five teams from the ACC in the 16-team bracket, which makes the Atlantic Coast the most represented conference in the tournament. Two of the top-4 seeded teams include the two ACC finalists in No. 1 North Carolina and No. 3 Duke. 

In Lynn Farquhar’s first season at the helm, her squad had a less-than-ideal regular season in conference play; posting its worst record (2-4) since 2018 (1-5). There was also no shortage of heartbreak to go around, especially in the latter half of the year; with Syracuse dropping two games in double overtime, one in penalty strokes, and in their ACC Quarterfinal matchup after giving up two goals in 48 seconds in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter after leading all game long.

No matter if it was misfortune or bad luck, the tournament selection committee did not deem the Orange inept to play for college field hockey’s greatest trophy in 2023. With that said, it’s the postseason, so anything can happen. Let’s take a dive into what’s next for SU and what a cinderella run could potentially look like and the plausibility of such a streak.

Next Opponent: vs. Liberty University (11/10 at 2:30 p.m. at Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium in Durham, N.C.)

Most recently ranked the 6th best team in the nation, Liberty was riding 12 straight wins going into the Big East conference championship game, where it fell at the hands of unranked Old Dominion, 3-1. While that loss may inject some hope after quickly glancing over that passage, the Flames have essentially been unstoppable this season, finishing the regular season 16-1, with their lone loss against now No. 3 Duke…in overtime…in Durham.

If that’s not impressive enough, the LU resume certainly stands out as one of the best. Most prominently, downing the National Championship favorites in No. 1 North Carolina…in Chapel Hill…in double overtime. If that’s not enough, Nikki Parsley-Blocker’s squad also bested Virginia on the road and Harvard; two other teams Syracuse lost to during the regular season, and one of them again in the postseason.

As far as numbers are concerned, the Orange and Flames have something in common. Both of them represent the highest-scoring teams in their respective conferences, with each squad averaging over three goals per contest.

Where discrepancies are mainly found include the goaltender statistics. LU allows less than a goal per contest, and as a result, its goalkeeper Azul Iritxity Irigoyen has the best goals-against average margin (.316) and save percentage (.929) in the Big East. SU on the other hand, has given up the most scores in the ACC with nearly two goals surrendered per game. It doesn’t help the ‘Cuse hasn’t established a solidified number-one option at the goalkeeper position, with Abby Neitch coming into the fold late as the starter, including getting the nod in the ACC tournament.

However, Syracuse is no stranger to putting the pressure on a conference-best goalkeeper. In its matchup at Louisville earlier this year, the Orange collected the most goals against the Cardinals and netminder Merlijn van der Vegt than any other team did all season long (4).

Where Syracuse has the upper hand is that their individual players are more dominant across their respective conference, unlike Liberty. That does go to say the Flames have a very well-rounded team where anyone can score, but the Orange have well-grounded goal scorers like Eefke van den Nieuwenhof, Pieke van de Pas, and Charlotte de Vries who are consistently reliable to put points on the scoreboard.

SU has seen LU one other time back in 2016, also at a neutral site in Hofstra where Syracuse was ranked second in the nation and Liberty sat at 13th. At a neutral site, these games are impossible to predict, especially considering the unpredictability of this season so far for not only the Orange but for a Flames team that nobody until Sunday thought could be stopped.

What Comes Next?* (*If Applicable)

As much as this feels like a jinx to talk about, I have to look ahead just a little to what challenges may loom if Syracuse does pull off what many would consider an “upset.” 

With the teams matching up in Durham, barring any uncharacteristic performance from Duke against the Patriot League champions in American, the quarterfinal game would likely feature the third-ranked Blue Devils who blanked the Orange 4-0 earlier. It should be noted however, the hardest thing to do in sports is beating the same team twice. Now, realistically, beating the same team twice with home-field advantage in both games makes that narrative a lot more difficult,

While even one of those wins in themselves would be extraordinary if Syracuse catches fire and bests two of the nation’s best, it would propel them to the Final Four in Chapel Hill, where the Orange would likely match up against the likes of reigning National Champion Runner-Up in No. 2 Northwestern, but that region of the bracket also features Iowa, who was ranked atop the national rankings earlier in the season, and fellow ACC-foe Louisville, who marks one of the Orange’s ACC wins this year.

After that, while I feel it may redundant to bring up considering every opponent before this point will be a juggernaut if SU shocks the world and gets all the way to the game for all the marbles, their opponent will likely have home field advantage, considering No. 1 North Carolina has what many field hockey fans consider a cakewalk to the Final Four. Minus a couple of hiccups during the season, it’s very hard to bet against Erin Matson’s squad, who seeks their fifth national championship in its last six years.


Bringing it back to reality a little, the only opponent that matters for Syracuse is its next one, which is Liberty. The Orange and Flames battle down in Durham on Friday at 2:30 p.m. For live-in game updates and coverage throughout the entire NCAA Tournament, be sure to follow @GiffMD on X.