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April 26, 2015 — From the bubble to a contender

Three days ago, the season was on the line for the Syracuse women’s lacrosse team. Despite a high ranking, the team was in a tailspin after the suspension of one of its most physical defenders, and came into the ACC Tournament with a 3-3 record in its last six games.

A fourth loss at the inception of the tournament may have spelled the end of the Orange season. While there are plenty of variables the NCAA Tournament Committee considers when picking its at-large teams to fill out the field, there were many variables out of Syracuse’s control.

But the Syracuse women, to their overwhelming credit, took control of their destiny in a pretty devastating way. They defeated three Top 10 teams in the ACC Tournament, starting with a 14-13 win over Boston College after extra time, then beating Duke 14-10 after spotting the Blue Devils an early 5-1 lead. This afternoon, in the final, Syracuse beat North Carolina 9-8 in a game that was not decided until a fourth overtime period. Kayla Treanor played the heroine as she scored 1:16 into the second sudden-death overtime stanza.

For Syracuse, it wasn’t just a triumph for Treanor, one of the nation’s most dangerous attackers. It was also a good tournament for Halle Majorana, who had two good seasons for Maryland but transferred to be closer to her Manhasset (N.Y.) home. She had nine goals and four assists during the tournament.

Also shining for the Orange has been senior midfielder Taylor Gait. The oft-injured midfielder has had a lot of pressure on her shoulders since starting organized lacrosse; being the daughter of one of the greatest lacrosse players who ever lived will do that. Gait, a junior, has had seven knee operations and has missed all or part of every varsity season at Dewitt Christian Brothers Academy (N.Y.) or at Syracuse University since her junior year of high school.

And yet, during this tournament, Gait had a pair of goals, played crucial minutes in every game, and did it all without a knee brace and seemingly without fear.

But I think the key players in the Syracuse performance were the low defenders: Kaeli O’Connor, Brenna Rainone, Kathy Rudkin, Haley McDonald, and Mallory Vehar. In consecutive games, they had to shut down the likes of Covie Stanwick, Taylor Trimble, and Aly Messinger — some pretty good names to try to lock down.

The success of the Orange on defense has helped the team win the ACC’s automatic qualifier spot in the 2014 NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse tournament. This is likely to have put Notre Dame on the bubble; calculations now have five ACC teams in the nation’s Top 10 in Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) ratings with Notre Dame around 18th.

Even without the Irish in the field, the tournament will certainly have an ACC presence.


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