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Syracuse women

Two-Week Reset Fueled Syracuse's Final Four Run

May 24, 2023
Beth Ann Mayer
Rich Barnes

Meaghan Tyrrell has employed visualization throughout her career at Syracuse. She picked it up from her first head coach, Gary Gait, as a tool to mentally prepare for future games and stay in the moment during them.

The first 30 minutes against Boston College on April 20 were beyond anything she could visualize. Tyrrell passed Katie Thomson (née Rowan) as the program’s all-time points leader — by assisting a goal scored by her younger sister, Emma. The Orange led 11-6 at halftime and appeared well on their way to securing the program’s first undefeated regular season and the top seed in the ACC tournament. Everything was going right.

“We started really hot,” Tyrrell said. “The shots were falling for us. We were flowing with our offense.”

Things started unraveling in the third quarter — the Eagles outscored Syracuse 4-3. And things fell apart in the fourth, when Boston College poured in seven goals to win 17-16, ruining the Orange’s bid for perfection, claiming a share of the ACC regular-season title and stealing the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage for the conference tournament.

It was not what Tyrrell — or anyone — had in mind.

“A couple of turnovers, a couple of bad shots — we strayed from our gameplan a little bit,” Tyrrell said. “BC is a talented team. They were able to convert off our mistakes. One thing led to another, and the game was over.”

Walking off the field, Tyrrell felt the Orange would see Boston College again, perhaps as soon as the ACC championship game. The Eagles made it there (and won). Syracuse did not. After struggling to get by Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals, Syracuse let in the first eight goals and never recovered in a 15-9 semifinal loss to North Carolina.

“We ended the regular season and had to bounce back quickly and go to an ACC tournament and travel,” head coach Kayla Treanor said. “We certainly didn’t play well — you know, the way we talk about [playing] Syracuse lacrosse.”

Syracuse lacrosse had been the model of consistency through its first 15 games. While other teams, like UNC and even the Eagles, slipped up to the likes of Notre Dame and Denver, respectively, Syracuse was simply perfect.

“We were really understanding each other’s strengths and sticking to the game plan our coaches had for us,” Tyrrell said. “We were executing, being patient, getting the right looks … we were taking shots, and they were falling. It was a lot of great, selfless lacrosse going on.”

But Syracuse hadn’t had much time to assess itself. Throughout the season’s grind, it was always onto the next — the next opponent, the next film session, the next game, the next opportunity to win or lose. Syracuse only had a week off between games twice. But the ACC tournament gets played a week before everyone else’s. Without an opponent to scout, Syracuse went through a much-needed two-week exercise of looking inward to reclaim its identity.

“Being able to really focus on ourselves, looking at what we were doing, was really important to take a step back and see what we were doing and translating it into practice, whether it’s making a cut here or taking a shot differently or going with a different setup,” Tyrrell said.

One of those changes actually happened on the defensive end. Tessa Queri, a graduate student, had played in every one of Syracuse’s games in the midfield, a role that forced her to come on and off the field. The Orange needed her more on defense and definitely on the field for 60 minutes. Treanor’s assistants, Caitlin Defliese Watkins and Kenzi Kent, brought it up to Treanor.

“It’s made a big adjustment for us in our zone and how we want to play it,” Treanor said.

The Orange drew the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. In its first game in 15 days against Johns Hopkins, the old Syracuse was back. The Orange poured in 25 goals, matching a school single-game mark. The multi-weapon offense with the Tyrrells, Emma Ward, et al. may get the headlines, but the defense was equally strong. Syracuse held the Blue Jays to eight goals, marking the 11th time this season the Orange kept an opponent to single-digit scoring. Queri contributed a pair of ground balls.

“We came out and wanted to play free, have fun, take back the identity that we were creating all season,” Tyrrell said. “The shots were falling. The defense was making big stops.”

Syracuse was Syracuse once again. But also, once again, there wasn’t much time to turn the page. The Orange would play in the first quarterfinal game at noon on Thursday against a James Madison team with a staunch defense and never-done attitude. The Dukes dug out of a five-goal hole to beat the sport’s most decorated program, Maryland, in round two and had a defense that ranked in the top three nationally in fewest goals allowed per game.

JMU may not play in one of the power conferences, but Syracuse had all the respect in the world for its next opponent.

“They have a really good zone that they run, and they are able to hold a lot of teams to low-scoring games,” Tyrrell said. “We knew we had to be meticulous with where we were going to feed and shots we were going to take.”

Defensively, the Orange were sound in a 13-7 win, with Queri scooping six ground balls. But Tyrrell didn’t score, marking just the third time in 2023 a team limited her to no goals (she posted two assists). It was no big deal. The Dukes may have shut down the Tewaaraton finalist, but they were no match for the rest of the Syracuse offense. Because, unlike in 2021 and 2022, when players like Emma Tyrrell, Ward and Megan Carney sat out with injuries, the gang’s mostly all here and healthy. Carney netted a hat trick. And sophomore Olivia Adamson led the way with four goals, two assists and nine draws.

“She’s so determined,” Tyrrell said. “If she’s asked to do something, she just knows to do it.”

It’s a mentality Adamson had to have when Syracuse did lose a critical player to injury in draw specialist Kate Mashewske, who sustained a lower-body injury against Notre Dame in March. Adamson stepped up in the circle and now leads the team with 99 draws. Tyrrell, who shouldered much of the load as the one to stay consistently healthy for two seasons, didn’t need to give her pointers.

“She understands the next person up mentality because she’s been there for the injuries,” Tyrrell said.

For now, it’s next team up. The Orange is finally getting a rematch with Boston College. It’s also a replay of the 2021 national championship game won by the Eagles, albeit with some critical differences. The Orange are healthy. BC star Charlotte North has graduated. Treanor, an associate head coach for the Eagles in 2021, is back at her alma mater.

Because of those differences, Tyrrell and Treanor aren’t thinking much of 2021. But April 20? That one still sits in their minds.

“It certainly fuels the team,” Treanor said. “I think it gives them a level of respect for their opponent, knowing that it was such a great game last time.”

The Orange have been a part of several great title games — all three losses. Treanor was part of one, a 15-12 loss to Maryland in 2014. This year feels different. The swagger is back.

“BC, we’ve played, and we led for 59 minutes of the game,” Treanor said. “A couple of things change, and the outcome might be different, so they know that they can beat them. Northwestern, same thing. We’re the one team that’s been able to beat them this year, so I just feel like there’s a lot of confidence in knowing that they’re going to be amazing games. But it’s really anyone’s to take.”

Tyrrell isn’t getting too ahead of herself. In the past, she’s allowed herself to visualize winning a national championship — not this week.

“Right now, it’s how we’re going to play in practice, how we are going to play in pregame and visualizing things that could happen in the game [against Boston College],” Tyrrell said.

But come on, it would be cool to go out on top — with the Orange’s first-ever national crown, right?

Tyrrell laughs but digs in.

“Right now, I’m taking it one game at a time,” she said, before zooming out for a moment. “Going to the Final Four, everyone, I think, has a thought that, ‘It could be us.’”

It would be a first in Tyrrell’s final collegiate game if it’s Syracuse.