Syracuse WLAX 2013-'14 team preview

With fall ball in the books, Syracuse women's lacrosse head coach Gary Gait breaks down where his team stands position wise with CuseNation.com inside.

With fall ball wrapped up and all but a distant memory, Syracuse women's lacrosse head coach Gary Gait and fellow assistant coach Katie Rowan have since hunkered down and have begun tailoring this season's offense. Much of the sets, Gait notes, will be customized to certain players as well as the team's overall talent.

Syracuse will look to get back to the Final Four and challenge for the right to be named national champions when it kicks off its season on the road against Jacksonville University on January 21. The Orange defeated the Dolphins, 21-8, last year behind Kayla Treanor's six-point performance of five goals and one assist.

The No. 2 scoring offense in the country will return its top two leading scorers from a year ago in Tewaaraton Award finalist Alyssa Murray (64 goals, 40 assists) and Treanor (71 goals, 24 assists). The two combined for roughly 40 percent of Syracuse's offense in 2013.

"She kind of did what we needed to do last year," Gait said about Treanor. "She quarterbacks it from behind the goal."

The then freshmen was thrusted into an early leadership role when Michelle Tumolo went down against Cornell with an ACL injury and has passed with flying colors ever since.

"I think it's key to the success of an offense to have someone that can play that position," Gait said. "It was Michelle until she got injured and then Kayla took over that. I think she did a wonderful job and she is only going to get better."

Gait continued, "Right now, we pretty much have six starting attackers for four spots. We will utilize them all."

In that mix is junior Gabby Jaquith who is coming off an injury and freshman Taylor Poplawski. Poplawski was one of two Under Armour All-Americans for the Orange that played in this past summer's senior game. Defender Kelsey Youmell was the other.

The Lafayette, N.Y. native played ball at Christian Brothers Academy (N.Y.) and was a fixture on the team since eighth grade. In her senior year, she tallied 31 goals, 22 assists, 38 ground balls and helped her team win a state title and two regional championships.

"Taylor could start anywhere in the country and she is here fighting to earn a starting spot," Gate said. "She is going to be an exciting, immediate impact player."

Very much like the attack position, Syracuse returns a very deep midfield. The team has its entire starting midfield back in seniors Bridget Daly (18 goals, five assists), Katie Webster (25 goals, one assist) and Amy Cross (16 goals, four assists). From there, the drop off is minimal. Sophomores Erica Bodt (11 goals, two assists), Brenna Rainone (seven goals) and Kelly Cross (17 goals, six assist), all of which saw ample playing time on the field last year, will more than likely make up the second midfield line. Sophomores Taylor Gait and Lisa Rogers as well as freshman Devon Parker will be in the mix for that third midfield line.

For those not familiar with Syracuse's style of play on offense, specifically as it pertains to the midfield, Gait and assistant coach Regy Thorpe run lines similar to the men's game.

"We work hard," Gait said about the midfield. "We get people in and out."

DEFENSE

The defense will undergo a dramatic facelift this year with the absence of the Block sisters, Linley and Becca. Both were lost to, yeah know, that thing called graduation. The Orange will look to replace last year's Big East Defensive Player of the Year in Becca -- a do-it-all defender who made opposing teams squirm whenever she got loose in between the 30s. The former captain also played that coveted backer in Syracuse's zone defense.

Combined, the duo's speed made transition fast breaks effortless and gave the offense a different look when it came to goal scoring.

"Throughout the fall we used Caroline Webster as the backer in our zone defense," Gait said. "She played very well."

The sophomore appeared in just eight games for the Orange last year and recorded two ground balls and three draw controls.

"We have a group that moves the ball well and that is really focused on our defense, passing the ball, getting it up field and making good decisions. We have some veterans coming back mixed with some younger players. We should be solid again at defense."

Those veteran defenders include seniors Casey Mock (20 ground balls, one draw control), Natalie Glanell (24 ground balls, seven draw controls) and Liz Harbeson (15 ground balls, seven draw controls). Newcomers include Youmell, an Under Armour All-American, who will see time on the field immediately.

"Kelsey is going to be playing on defense and will she'll get time right away," Gait said. "She will get her opportunity."

Hailing from Jordan, N.Y., Youmell was a defensive stalwart for the Eagles. Her senior year statistics include 59 goals, 13 assists and 19 ground balls. Youmell was also a two-time first team all-league honoree.

Out of all the defenders, junior Mallory Vehar (seven ground balls, five draw controls) has impressed the coaching staff tenfold this fall. Gait claims she has really "stepped on defense" and "looks great."

And last, but certainly not least, is sophomore Maddy Huegel. The sophomore burst onto the scene last season with her performance against Northwestern. Since then, Huegel has been a staple on the circle for the Orange, grabbing 30 draw controls and scooping up 16 ground balls. Her speed will be an important piece for Syracuse with the Block sisters now gone. The West Genesee (N.Y.) lacrosse product had no problem fitting into the team's zone defense from a year ago.

GOALIES

Syracuse was in the minority last season when it came to playing two goalies, however, it was a system that worked out for them.

Kelsey Richardson, barring injuries or something drastic, should be Syracuse's starting goalie at the start of the season. The junior posted a 7.70 goals against average while senior Alyssa Costantino gave up exactly two goals more at 9.70.

"We'll give them both an opportunity," Gait said. "If there is some separation, there's separation. Up until now, the last two years they have been a good tandem and have been working together."

The proof, according to Gait, is in the numbers -- the save percentage numbers. Both Costantino and Richardson had a tough time transitioning when Syracuse changed to a zone defense from man-to-man type defense.

"In a zone defense, you're going to get open, one-on-one shots whereas in man-to-man, it's always pressured. By the end of the year, they figured it out and our playoff save percentage was very good and we were happy with it."

"It's Alyssa's senior year and she is excited," Gait said. "I think Kelsey has developed some great confidence from last year moving to that starting spot. We couldn't be happier with those two backing our defense."

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