Syracuse’s season-long struggles come full circle in 12-11 NCAA tournament opening-round loss

first_img Comments NEWTON, Mass. — Nicole Levy took off her mask, exhaled and walked off the field as her teammates ran in the opposite direction. The junior caught her breath and put her hand around the back of teammate Alie Jimerson. SU players hugged and held back tears as they went down to greet the team that had just ended its season.A goal from Princeton’s Colby Chanenchuk had just given Syracuse’s season a final blow, a stab in the chest at the finite portion of perhaps SU’s most powerful run all year. In SU’s (9-10, 1-6 Atlantic Coast) 12-11 NCAA tournament opening loss in double overtime to Princeton (13-5, 6-1 Ivy League), the Orange saw the season-long struggles it’s faced come back to haunt it, resulting in the first losing season in program history. The same problems that arose in the sloppy first half of Syracuse’s season-opening win reappeared against the Tigers, as they have shown signs all season long. Despite a tough fight in the end, SU was forced to pack its bags early.“We worked our way every single minute, every single second toward the end of the game,” redshirt sophomore Mary Rahal said. “I’m really, really proud of all my teammates for not giving up and pushing and going to the last whistle, the last second of the game.”This season, there’s always been something wrong for the Orange. It started with the loss of fall ball, then the draw struggles, then a tough schedule, then intense travel, then injuries and communication issues. What was wrong always swallowed what was right. SU head coach Gary Gait said he found himself in a spot that he’s never been before, a “bubble team” with a chance of missing the NCAA tournament.But, that was “long ago,” he said before the game. The Orange was more equipped. It had time to prepare and it was “ready.” Princeton was a team that SU has beaten before, at Princeton’s home field a month and a half ago.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textBut since the Orange last played the Tigers, things have changed. Princeton can score: Its offense ranked 18th in the nation coming into the game. Princeton can defend: Its 35th-ranked scoring defense allows just 10.85 goals per game. The only thing that the Tigers seemingly can’t do over their past six games is lose. Princeton’s six-game winning streak was capped with an Ivy League championship and a matchup with the Orange, whose ACC tournament opening loss matched the worst defensive performance in the program’s history after allowing 21 goals.Princeton gave the Orange nothing early on. The Tigers came out with a vengeance and tore apart the SU defense, opening up an 8-2 lead at one point of the game. An immediate scoring opportunity from Nicole Levy seconds into the game was dropped by the junior, and the rest of the Orange’s struggles followed.In the first half, Taylor Gait found her way toward the goal and forced a whistle as she took a shot. It was called a foul, though, and the Tigers were awarded possession.“That was a push on the shot, that was definitely a push on the shot,” Gary Gait yelled to the referee on the near side behind the goal. She ran past, pointing to the referee behind her coming down the field toward Gait. So, he repeated to the next ref, “That was a push on the shot, that was definitely a push on the shot.”It was much like what he had been forced to do the remainder of the season before Friday: Complain about the things that hindsight couldn’t fix.“It’s just the weirdest year that I’ve ever had,” SU head coach Gary Gait said. “It’s crazy how things happen, but this year is a year for anything.”Gait looked left and then right. He fist bumped Goldstock, whom he just removed from the game, turned around and put both his hands on his hips. He pleaded to his players. Silent, he watched as his players responded with a turnover on the other end. In just the first half, the Orange had packed in all of its season’s mistakes. Unlike the past, SU persisted.Gait’s unanswered calls showed how the Orange’s struggles have come full circle and haunted them when it mattered most. First the offense, then the defense and finally, the communication.But then the tempo changed. The Orange put on a mini-run from the end of the first half into the early part of the second frame. It expanded. The Orange marched, eating away at the Tigers’ lead. First, it was Levy, then Neena Merola, then Levy again, then Riley Donahue, then Mary Rahal. In an unanswered stretch, the Orange had roared back to cut the Princeton lead to one.“Syracuse is such a high-scoring and dangerous offensive team,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer. “And they went for a while there.”All game long, Princeton freshman goalkeeper Sam Fish swallowed up SU scoring chances, effortlessly grabbing the ball in her pocket from point-blank shooting range, standing up straight and lofting the ball to her nearest teammate. But the Tigers’ goalie started to look timid.The Orange roared back, equalized the game and pushed ahead. Hannah Van Middelem was unstoppable in SU’s net. Syracuse’s offense was electric. Play after play, SU seemed to have the upper hand. Even as Princeton had a chance to stop the run and push its lead to four on a pass inside to a wide-open Chanenchuk, the senior — just as Levy did on the first play of the game to spark the Orange’s struggles — dropped the pass.“We were just making some errors that we don’t usually make,” Chanenchuk said. “There was just a little bit of agitation, hesitation there.”But the final play suffocated yet another opportunity for triumph from an Orange team that spent a large part of the season gasping for air.It’s something that the Orange’s entire season was building up to. The preseason’s No. 7 team in the country, SU fell and fell. It became a bottom-dweller in the ACC and, every game, was forced to fight for its NCAA tournament life. After the buzzer, as SU players dug their faces into their jersey, not bearing the sight of the scoreboard behind them, Syracuse’s season finally reached its full perspective. It ended the same way it began. It looked short-handed, handicapped, but unlike in the early going, Syracuse was inferior. “We had a very rough year, from no fall ball, to having one of the toughest schedules in the country. I give us a lot of credit for making it into the tournament and giving us a chance to prove ourselves,” Rahal said, choking and fighting on her words. “Because Syracuse lacrosse is one of the best programs in the country.“We like to always remind everybody of that.” Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Published on May 11, 2018 at 6:52 pm Contact Michael: [email protected] | @MikeJMcClearylast_img

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