Syracuse’s season epitomized by missed opportunities
Tony D. Curtis
Eva Gordon had a golden opportunity. Just two minutes into play against then-No. 16 North Carolina, Stephanie Skilton booted the ball in Gordon’s direction. But Gordon’s shot lazily rolled to UNC’s goalie for an easy save. Gordon threw her hands up in disappointment.
A perfect opportunity slipped away. SU outshot UNC, 7-4, at the end of the first half, yet the Orange trailed 2-0. Syracuse went on to lose to the Tar Heels on Oct. 21 and was eliminated from playoff contention.
“You have far less opportunities in the ACC so the teams that are most effective can capitalize on those chances,” Syracuse coach Phil Wheddon said. “UNC shot 50 percent in the first half. Those higher-echelon teams are simply more efficient and it wins them games.”
That game depicts Syracuse’s (8-8-3, 1-7-2) 2016 season. The Orange failed to capitalize on easy scoring opportunities, ranking 13th out of 14 ACC teams in both shots and goals. Several games in ACC play were decided by just one goal (Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Boston College). If SU had finished effectively, the Orange may have earned an ACC tournament berth.
“Those nine points would have put us in the ACC tournament,” Wheddon said. “It’s such a fine margin, these one-goal games on the road are such huge differences. But simply put, we have to be more efficient in front of goal. It comes down to that.”
Except Wheddon’s team won’t get another chance until 2017.
Syracuse got off to its best start since 2003, with a 3-1-0 record. It outscored its opponents 16-4 until ACC play. When that began, SU tied Notre Dame 1-1, a Top 25 team, and fired 14 shots on net. But SU’s scoring woes were still apparent.
As sudden death overtime began against UND, Gordon sped past the defense and got an open chance on net. She missed wide left.
After the game, Gordon said, “We have to capitalize on the chances we do get. Because in the ACC, those opportunities are going to get slimmer and slimmer.”
The next three games from Sept. 22 to Oct. 2, SU was outscored 10-0 and outshot 69-15.
Against Clemson, Syracuse was outshot, 31-7. Those three games halted SU’s momentum. The Orange would gain just one victory after that, on Oct. 16 win against Pittsburgh.
Wheddon said his team searched for good scoring opportunities rather than taking any chance on net. He admitted the strategy ultimately backfired.
“Some teams outshoot others by 20 shots and that’s just taking any opportunities,” Wheddon said. “But if you don’t shoot, you don’t score. We didn’t. So that has to be part of our philosophy going forward.”
Freshman Sydney Brackett led the Orange with 41 shots, yet only scored once. Alex Lamontagne fired 26 shots and scored once. Sheridan Street scored twice on 19 shots. Alana O’Neill, a right back, led SU in goals for most of the season.
Skilton led Syracuse with six goals off 22 shots, a 27 percent success rate. It was her fourth straight year leading the team. She blamed the scoring inefficiency on poor offensive connection.
“We were just too individual,” Skilton said. “We would go forward but one person would still be isolated. We weren’t linking enough to utilize the players we had.”
Wheddon said Syracuse has a Top 25 recruiting class that will help provide depth and a spark on the attack. Although he praised his attacker’s, he deemed the issue a team-wide problem.
The Orange returns top scoring threats in Lamontagne, Gordon and Brackett, but when asked about the future of the program’s key offensive players, he didn’t single anyone out.
“Every one of our forwards is what you call a scouting-report player,” Wheddon said. “They have intangibles that other coaches are worried about.
“But at the end of the day, we’ve got to be way more dangerous as a team in front of net and that’s our focus for next year.”
Published on November 2, 2016 at 10:57 pm
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