The Orange Finding Defensive Identity in Win Streak
By Jacob Morris
Citrus TV’s Women’s Lacrosse Beat Reporter
On Sunday, No. 4 Syracuse (7-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina for a neutral-site matchup with No. 18 Virginia Tech (7-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast). The Orange put up a thorough performance on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball and coasted to an 18-8 victory over the Hokies.
Syracuse and Virginia Tech had a history of playing close regular season contests with the previous three matchups being decided by a single goal and two needing overtime. Sunday’s game was different in large part due to the prowess of the SU defensive unit as a whole.
The ‘Cuse held the nation’s 14th-ranked scoring offense to just eight goals and 14 shots during the game. The Orange forced 17 Hokie turnovers and bothered the VT attack throughout the afternoon. Sarah Cooper was specifically stellar on defense as the Tewaatron Award nominee caused four turnovers and picked up two ground balls.
Additionally, Virginia Tech midfielder Paige Petty came into the matchup tied with Emily Hawryschuk for the nation’s lead in goals. However, the SU defense blanketed Petty, holding her to just one goal on two shots while forcing her to turn the ball over three times. The Orange’s defensive work on Petty and the Hokie attack was more of the same for a unit that’s been dominant over the last month.
The Orange have allowed double-digit goals just one time throughout Syracuse’s six-game win streak. Northwestern and their nation-leading scoring offense as the only team to do it. Despite giving up 11 goals to the Wildcats, the Orange defense still held Northwestern more than 13 goals under their season average and their Preseason All-American attacker Izzy Scane scoreless and without a single point.
SU’s overall defensive performance in the win streak has been a complete turnaround from their early season loss to Stony Brook. The Orange allowed 17 goals in the defeat as the Seawolves’ two Preseason All-Americans, Ally Kennedy and Taryn Ohlmiller, shredded the Syracuse defense, combining for eight goals and five assists. The SU defense simply looked lost for much of the contest and head coach Gary Gait mentioned the team’s unfamiliarity with man-to-man sets.
“We played man-to-man, and it was the first time we really tried to play a man-to man… but our bread and butter is working multiple zones,” Gait said.
Since the loss, the Orange have stuck with primarily zone sets and it’s paid off exponentially. The Orange have kept every opponent under 25 shots and held four of those opponents to fewer 15. This was highlighted by three first half shutouts in the win streak, including against Binghamton in which the Orange defense didn’t concede a single shot in the first frame.
With North Carolina sacrificing 16 goals in their win over Northwestern on Monday, the Orange are now the nation’s top scoring defense allowing just 7 goals per game.
Strategically, the Syracuse defense has limited its opponents’ opportunities by protecting the middle of the offensive zone. The different SU zone defenses prioritize cutting off access to the middle 8-meter fan by constantly communicating on passing attackers to the next zone. Restricting access to the middle limits the amount of shots, as well as the quality of scoring opportunities for the opposition.
The Syracuse defense has found its groove right in time for the beginning of ACC play. Plus, the Orange are still scheduled to play each of the top three teams in the country and five of the top 20. The SU defense’s ability to keep up this high level of play through different zone could make the difference through the ACC gauntlet and possibly, into Memorial Day Weekend.
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