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Wednesday, Feb 27, 2019 at 8:57 pm

Syracuse Defense Holds Off Late Loyola Surge

By Jaron May

CitrusTV Women’s Lacrosse Beat Reporter

After another top-20 matchup for the Syracuse Women’s Lacrosse team on Wednesday, Head Coach Gary Gait repeatedly praised his defense’s performance. The Orange started off hot on the attack, but it was their defense that was the constant in this one.

“I think it’s our best defense in a long time,” Gait said.

One of Syracuse’s (5-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) most talented defensive lineups in its history led its team to a 15-11 victory over No. 12 Loyola-Maryland (1-2, 0-0 Patriot League).

Fans of SU Women’s Lacrosse have seen great defenses take the field in the Carrier Dome for years, but this year’s squad is special. They come into every game aggressive, causing turnovers, grabbing ground balls, and not allowing the opposing team to go where they want.

“We have better communication within each other and our shifts. That definitely helps us get a lot of caused turnovers,” said defender Ella Simkins. “We all just really trust the process and the new defenses we are running.”

They trusted the process on Wednesday afternoon, causing nine turnovers and snatching 22 ground balls. The Orange currently rank 12th nationally in ground balls per game, grabbing 25.5 per contest.

That harassing defense was also a major reason for the quick offensive start for the Orange. Syracuse jumped out to a 7-0 run to start the game behind Emily Hawryschuk’s two goals and Sam Swart’s one goal and two assists.

“Today you saw a lot of transition goals, which I think just goes to show that the middies are working hard to play both ends of the field,” said Natalie Wallon. “Obviously our defense has been kind of the star of the show this year, but I think today’s first half was a great example of also highlighting the offensive talents that we have.”

One of those transition goals occurred midway through the first half. Loyola’s Liz Scott was cutting from right to left at the 20 yard line with two SU defenders tightly guarding her. Scott had nowhere to go with the ball and coughed it up. Syracuse’s Vanessa Costantino grabbed the ground ball and bolted the other way. As the Greyhound’s defense was still getting set, Megan Carney wrapped around the back of the net and put one past Loyola’s goalkeeper.

That was the story of the game for Loyola, not being prepared for the fast-paced SU attack in the first half. Syracuse would finish the first period of play with a 12-4 advantage, led by Hawryschuk’s four goals.

However, the second half was a different story. Loyola’s Head Coach Jen Adams took the halftime break to make some adjustments, which proved to be effective. The Greyhounds outshot the Orange 14-12 and outscored them 7-3 in the second.

“They got pretty physical on us, on our hands,” Gait said about Loyola’s adjustments in the second half. “They had a bit better game plan going against our zone, to take advantage of the fast breaks.”

These changes made Syracuse sweat a little extra towards the end. Loyola ended the game on a 6-1 run, but it just didn’t have enough time on the game clock to complete the comeback.

As amazing as the Orange have performed this year, the second half has been their kryptonite. SU has been out scored 34-29 in second halves so far this season.

“It was just more of us having to dial in on ourselves and worry about ourselves and putting our shots away,” said Nicole Levy. “I have a lot of confidence in us that we’re going to bounce back and we are going to get over this second half groove that we’re stuck in.”

Another area SU has struggled this season is draw controls, but Wednesday’s match up was different. The Orange dominated the draw, out doing Loyola 16-12, in large part due to freshman Braelie Kempney. She got the nod for the majority of draws against the Greyhounds and tallied 10 controls for herself.

That is the most draw controls by a member of the Orange since Morgan Widner grabbed 10 against North Carolina in 2017.

“She missed most of the preseason [due to injury],” said Gait. “Today was a big step in the right direction.”

Wednesday’s showdown with No. 12 Loyola-Maryland was an overall outstanding performance in all aspects for the Orange. With the win, they improve to 5-1 on the season and 2-1 against ranked opponents. Syracuse will see another ranked team on Saturday as No. 7 Virginia comes to town.

jmay02@syr.edu | @jaron_may