No. 4 Syracuse couldn’t hang on in a narrow loss to No. 1 North Carolina

A game of thumbs. That’s how Syracuse women’s lacrosse head coach Kayla Treanor described her team’s narrow 14-12 loss Saturday afternoon. The thumbs for the Orange came in all phases of the game. The offense had moments of struggle. The defense committed a number of fouls, which led to UNC free position opportunities. Finally, the draw control dominance died out during the streak.

Let’s start with the attacking side of the ball. Senior Meaghan Tyrrell continued his impressive 2022 campaign with four goals and a few assists. Additionally, sophomore midfielder Natalie Smith had an outstanding performance with her first career hat trick. Apart from these exceptional performances, the rest of the attack of Syracuse cooled. The Orange were competing against one of the best lacrosse teams in the country in North Carolina and needed all the offensive firepower to keep up.

There is a valid explanation for this offensive stall. The unit played their first match since learning midfielder Emma Tyrrell would be out for the rest of the season. The junior was responsible for 30 goals this season and helped win more possessions with an assist to control draws with 64 in 2022.

Younger sister Tyrrell isn’t the only Cuse player injured. The other “Meg”, Megan Carney, also suffers from a lower body injury. The elder hadn’t played in the last two games against unranked Temple and number six Loyola. Carney started in this contest and contributed a score on four shots. Then, in the second half, the striker was dismissed.

Syracuse’s Megan Carney (22) battles defenders for a shot. The elder scored just one goal in the first half of the game against the Tar Heels before sitting out for the entire second half.

The ‘thumbs’ from the attacking side also showed up in the form of missed chances. There were a number of times throughout the game where the Orange couldn’t capitalize on a huge defensive save. The main example came in the second half, Syracuse were ahead by a few points and started to run a bit. It was one of the few runs in the whole game. The Cuse could have used the momentum to go up three, which would have been the biggest margin in the game at that point. It may sound like a simple thing, but with the most fans in attendance in the program’s history in a single match, it may have turned inches into meters for the Orange.

On the defensive end, the aggressive play led to multiple second chances for the Tar Heels. SU gave up six free position opportunities, while UNC took 50%. To make matters worse for the unit, these seemed to come just as the possession clock was about to strike zero. This usually meant the clock would be renewed and/or the Tar Heels turn a wasted possession into a scoring opportunity or a goal.

The other side of this defensive struggle could be attributed to North Carolina’s offensive skill, but part of it comes down to the SU unit. UNC had 19 shots on goal and found the back of the net 14 times. This means that 73% of attempts on the frame went between the pipes. Part of this falls on the aforementioned foul issues, but it also comes down to the goalkeeper. Kimber Hower finished with five saves and when the UNC transfer arrived with the stoppage, it was in big moments. The problem was, there were so many different game-changing moments, and Hower couldn’t stop them all.

Kimber Hower White (11) positions herself in the cage waiting for a free position opportunity.

UNC transfer and current SU starting goalkeeper (11) positions herself in the cage awaiting a free position opportunity. The junior redshirt record four saves on Saturday afternoon.

Finally, the good start at the draw control circle collapsed at the wrong time. Orange entered the half-time break with a 10-6 advantage and it was obvious that kept the game close. It was even more evident when strength briefly turned into weakness.

In the third quarter, the Tar Heels went on a decisive 4-0 run that started with a five-game winning streak in draw control. The Orange lost its only point of leverage. The Cuse would regain the lead of the draw at the end of the match 16-13, but it would be too late.

It was the toughest test for Syracuse so far this season and went tit for tat with the best team in the country. Now the Orange must look forward to opportunities later in the season to secure a marquee win. The regular season finale at Boston College stands out as significant. Until then, SU remains in central New York with a battle at Ithaca against Cornell on Tuesday at 7 p.m.