April 1, 2014

Syracuse Women Use Ball Control, Hand Albany First Loss

by Tyler Piccotti | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

In-Game Blog Replay


Kailah Kempney had a big night for Syracuse against a plucky Albany team, dominating at the draw to help the Orange hand the Great Danes their first loss of 2014, 13-11. (Greg Wall)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – On March 10, junior attack Kailah Kempney won her 182nd draw to became Syracuse's all-time leader in that category.

On Tuesday night, the junior attack gave the 532 fans in attendance at the Carrier Dome a sampling of what she can do when she's at her best.

Kempney dominated the midfield circle as the No. 3 Orange overcome a sluggish offensive performance and held off No. 14 Albany, 13-11. In addition to winning 11 draws on her own, the former Carthage standout helped her teammates outdraw the Great Danes by an astonishing 22-4 margin and dominate time of possession.

"It was key," Syracuse head coach Gary Gait said. "The fact is that we were controlling the ball, getting it in our sticks, and that was huge."

Kempney immediately set the tone on the opening draw when she shoveled the ball to teammate Maddy Huegel to kick-start the game's initial sequence. Seconds later, senior Amy Cross gave the Orange a quick 1-0 lead.

But Kempney's real damage came later in the half.

After Christine Johnson came away with Albany's first draw a little more than five minutes into the period, the Great Danes failed to secure a second one until only 4:01 remained before the break. During that dry spell, Kempney anchored Syracuse by nabbing four of the Orange's eight consecutive triumphs in the circle.

Without her help, Gait's squad wouldn't have been able to hit the intermission with a slim 7-5 advantage.

"It's hard when we weren't getting the draws, but we're a scrappy team," Albany midfielder Allie Phelan said. "When you put up the defensive stands, we do our best to get it in and work it down as fast as possible."

But even Albany's best could not deny Kempney on this night.

Her grand finale was a series of four crucial draw wins during the final 10 minutes of the game. Three of those came with Syracuse ahead by only a single goal, and the Orange was able to double its lead on each ensuing possession.

"It was working the whole game, so we really didn't change anything up at the end," Kempney said. "Just tried to keep doing what was working."

She did, and the orange converted when it mattered most.

In the process, she spoiled a nearly heroic effort from the Albany defense. Despite surrendering 33 shots and continuously chasing SU ball-handlers throughout much of the evening, the unit never lost focus and kept the game close to the very end.

"If you look at the stats on a piece of paper, and I was looking up at the scoreboard," Albany head coach John Battaglino said, "you would think the score would be like 20-3. That shows how well the defense played because they had to put up those stands."

Kempney's 11 draw controls nearly matched her season-high of 12, which she picked up against Stetson on Jan. 24.

She'll likely be challenged this Saturday when she goes against Virginia Tech draw specialist Meg Bartley, who ranks 13th in the country in draws won per game.

But on Tuesday, she proved why she now sits atop SU's all-time leaderboard and helped the Orange fend off a bitter end to its long home stand.

Said Gait: "Without those possessions, who knows what the score would have been?"

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