February 19, 2013

Sheehan: Syracuse Must Win '50 Percent Battles'

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.com

Syracuse coach Gary Gait has said that to win games, the Orange must shoot at least 50 percent, win more than 50 percent of draws and its goalies need stop more than half the shots they see. Syracuse accomplished one of those tasks in a 19-11 loss Sunday against Maryland.
© John Mecionis

Before we take a look at the college season, a quick note on the recent news from the Maryland General Assembly about a bill that was originally proposed to require headgear for girls' youth lacrosse. I'm not an anthropologist, but if you take a look at the evolution of some other sports in the past 100 years, the use of helmets and improvements in helmet technology has not necessarily made them safer.

If people are truly serious about the safety of women's lacrosse, let's first look at how the game is coached and officiated.

(Editor's note: The delegates who proposed the bill have since agreed to allow US Lacrosse to provide updated language for the bill that will drastically modify its original intent. Instead of mandating headgear use by youth and high school players, the focus of the bill will change to requiring mandatory sport-specific education, training and certification for youth and high school coaches consistent with US Lacrosse education curricula.).

Ok, I'm stepping down from my soapbox. Let's talk about some of the early-season storylines.

Week in review

This weekend saw many teams make their 2013 season debuts. The bottom line is that it is still early and there are many more games left in this season before we figure out the pretenders and the legitimate contenders.

But the biggest surprise this week was Vanderbilt's 10-9 loss to Denver in Nashville. It is no surprise that Vanderbilt had some holes to fill from last year's team, most notably the graduation of midfielder Ally Carey and a talented senior class. Coming into this season, Denver appeared to be much more experienced, with 10 starters returning from last year's team. The Pioneers' experience seemed to be the difference in this matchup, as they were able to come up with the winning goal in the final six seconds. The road only gets tougher for Vandy, as it faces Boston College, Northwestern and Duke over the next two weeks.

In another tough early-season game, Virginia was able to slide past Loyola 10-9 in Baltimore. As expected, Northwestern transfer Casey Bocklet made an immediate impact for the Wahoos, chipping in three goals for Virginia. Loyola will need to improve in some of key areas for their next games. It was outshot and dominated on the draw circle by Virginia. However, I'm sure that the Greyhounds will be able to quickly fix these issues. On the bright side, freshman goalie Molly Wolf put up 11 saves, which was a big relief.

Maryland came into Syracuse and never took their foot off of the gas, cruising past the Orange 19-11. Reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Katie Schwarzmann scored seven goals on eight shots, and freshman phenom Taylor Cummings scored five goals, adding six draw controls.

So, what happened to Syracuse: too much Maryland or an Orange letdown?

Last year, Gary Gait told me that for Syracuse to be successful it needed to win the "50 percent battle." That means shoot at least 50 percent, win more than half the draws and have at least a 50 percent save percentage.

If Syracuse did that, he felt comfortable in his team's ability to win. No kidding! Any team that does these three things has a pretty darn good chance at winning a few games. However, I didn't think it was possible on a consistent basis to put those numbers up. I was wrong. In 2012, Syracuse had its best season in program history by winning the 50 percent battle much of the time. When all was said and done in 2012, Syracuse shot 50 percent, won 57 percent of the draws, and boasted a 49 percent save percentage. The Orange rode this winning formula all the way to the national championship game, where they fell to Northwestern 8-6.

In the tilt against Maryland, however, it was a different stat line for Syracuse — 39 percent shooting percentage, 47 percent on draws, and better than a 50 percent save percentage. To win the 50 percent battle, Syracuse needed six more goals and two more draw controls. That would have brought the final score to 19-17, a much closer affair and, who knows, maybe the ball would've bounced Syracuse's way for a win.

Bottom line, Syracuse needs to shoot better. With sharp-shooters like Michelle Tumolo, Alyssa Murray and newcomer Kayla Treanor, I expect Syracuse to win its fair share of the 50 percent battles.

Games to watch this week

Wednesday — Vanderbilt at Boston College, 2 p.m. ET

I know it is only February, but Vanderbilt is on a slippery slope. Losses to Jacksonville and Denver will not bode well as they try to navigate through the ultra-competitive ALC. Boston College was on the outside looking in of the NCAA tournament last year. As members of the ACC, the Eagles too have the privilege of playing some of the top teams in the nation. Because of the tough in-conference matchups, both teams will need to have strong out-of-conference wins to be in the postseason picture. Last year's contest was a one-goal game in favor of Vanderbilt. I expect 2013's version to be close as well.

Friday — Northwestern at North Carolina, 7 p.m. ET

If North Carolina wants to be successful, it needs to get better production out of its offense. Unfortunately, shooting 14 of 39 against Richmond on Sunday was not much of a confidence builder. At this point in the season, I don't think North Carolina matches up well with Northwestern. Though this has recently been a very exciting early-season test for both programs (Northwestern won 7-6 in overtime in their last meeting in Chapel Hill on Feb. 3, 2011), I expect Northwestern to take this matchup easily.

CBS Sports Network women's lacrosse analyst and 2001 Tewaaraton Award finalist Sheehan Stanwick Burch will be providing a column for LaxMagazine.com every Tuesday throughout the Division I women's college season. This is her second column of 2013. Click here for her first, and follow Sheehan on Twitter @StanwickBurch.

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