TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Archive for April 2, 2021

April 2, 2021 — Preview: Syracuse vs. North Carolina

Tomorrow, the top two NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse teams meet up in what could be a signature game of the 2021 season. Here’s our fearless preview of the contest:

THE SIDES: Syracuse (6-0, 4-0 ACC); North Carolina (10-4, 4-0 ACC)

AT STAKE: In truth, not much except for the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. Both of these teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament, no matter what happens in this game or how they play in the conference tournament.

But intrinsically, this could very well be a bellweather game to see how these players do under the pressure of an excellent opposition, a national cable audience, and knowing that the teams could meet three times … one regular season, once in the ACC Tournament, and once in the NCAA bracket.

WHEN SYRACUSE HAS THE BALL: Credit the Syracuse offense for sheltering the load evenly after the season-ending injury to attacker Emily Hawryschuk. The junior attackers Megan Carney and Meaghan Tyrrell have been splendid, with 42 goals between them.

Key defenders for the Tar Heels are going to be Caroline Wakefield, Emily Nalls, and Catie Woodruff. Watch also for Elizabeth Hillman and Emma Trenchard on the back end; these two defense wings are capable of swooping in and scoring.

WHEN NORTH CAROLINA HAS THE BALL: Jamie Ortega (43 goals) and Katie Hoeg (31 assists) are having championship-level seasons. Scottie-Rose Growney (27 goals) and Tayler Warehime (21) are equally good options. Trying to go against this high-level offense are Orange defenders Ella Simkins, Sarah Cooper, and Kerry Defliese.

I think the key is going to be if the Syracuse defense can cut the cord between Hoeg and Ortega. But as we’ve seen in the sport over the years, that is easier said than done.

KEY MATCHUP: I think the key matchup is going to be within the four players who collapse on draw controls after the centers pull back on the ball. Ella Simkins of Syracuse and Kerrigan Miller of UNC are going to be very busy in this regard. Keep track on how many ground-ball pickups are won in between the 35s rather than which of the two centers win the draws to each other.

THE X-FACTOR: Goaltending, which always seems to happen in high-level games. Syracuse’s Asa Goldstock, after having four sometimes shaky seasons, has gotten a lot more consistent this year. Check our her year-by-year save percentage numbers:

2017: ,412
2018: .438
2019; .420
2020: .481
2021: .536

In a sport where a 55 percent save percentage almost guarantees you a spot in the Hall of Fame, the improvement is remarkable.

On the other end of the pitch, UNC’s Taylor Moreno has always played at a high level, and, frankly, could have a Tewaaraton moment this game on the level of Megan Taylor during the 2019 title match.

THE SKINNY: Syracuse has played the No. 1 women’s team in the ILWCA polls 27 times since the program was started in the 1990s. The Orange, however, are only 2-25 in those games, including not only a 12-9 win over UNC in 2014, but also a 2012 NCAA semifinal match whose denouement, involving a pocket check, changed lacrosse forever. The incident led to the institution of the rule which requires that a goal-scorer drop her stick for an immediate pocket check by the umpiring crew.

North Carolina, as a team which is incredibly loaded on the attack end of the field, has been expected to be the 2021 champions. Because of this “championship or bust” perception, I think all of the pressure is on the UNC team. But I’ll remind you that Boston College played UNC tough earlier this season, but scored 11 straight goals in the 12 minutes surrounding halftime.