Women's soccer

Program on the rise under Wheddon after posting consecutive postseason appearances

Luke Rafferty | Design Editor

Jackie Firenze and Syracuse enjoyed a winning season in which the team returned to the Big East tournament for a second straight season. It was the first time the program achieved that feat since 1999-2000.

Jackie Firenze’s miskicked shot dribbled its way across the goal line, through the goalkeeper’s legs and into the Syracuse history books. Firenze’s goal with 30 seconds remaining in regulation sealed a 3-2 victory over Connecticut on Sept. 13.

It was SU’s first win against its Big East rival in 18 tries.

The shot’s path into the net parallels the journey SU has taken since head coach Phil Wheddon arrived five seasons ago. The Orange has slowly become a formidable team after seasons of mediocrity. With a roster complete with players Wheddon recruited, the team completely turned over a new leaf this year. Because of this season, Syracuse’s future looks greener than ever.

“The team has made significant strides,” Wheddon said. “And a lot of that comes down to the players that have continued to come into the program and also the attitude and willingness to compete.”

The Orange (9-7-2, 6-3-1 Big East) had its season end Sunday with a 1-0 loss to then-No. 24 Notre Dame in the Big East tournament quarterfinals. This year marked the first time since 1999 and 2000 that the team reached the Big East tournament in consecutive years.

Senior Jenna Rickan has seen the program at its highest and lowest points. She was a freshman in 2009 when the team went 5-11-3 and, at one point, lost nine of 11 games. Rickan called the team’s turnaround “a complete 180,” especially recently.

“Our team has come a long way over the last two years, and on top of that I think we’ve progressed even further this year,” Rickan said. “This team has made major strides in the league and gained the respect of a lot of teams and coaches in the country.”

SU now believes it can not only compete, but win games against the toughest opponents on its schedule. Even though SU was 0-4 against Ohio State, Washington, Notre Dame and Marquette, it entered those matches confident.

“We had some great games against some of the better oppositions that we faced,” Wheddon said.

Rickan credits the entire coaching and training staff, as well as assistants who have contributed to the team’s improvement. She also pointed to this year’s talented freshman class.

Firenze, a top recruit from nearby Baldwinsville, started all 18 games and was tied for second on the team with four goals.

“Our whole team dynamic, from what I’ve seen from watching years ago, is completely different,” Firenze said before the team’s season finale against Notre Dame.

Fellow freshman Erin Simon started 10 games and also had four goals. She finished the season tied for second on the team with 10 points. Defender Taylor Haenlin started 15 games and added to an incredible defense corps, while Maya Pitts was a leading contributor off the bench.

Firenze and Simon supplemented the offensive attack of seniors Rickan and Alyscha Mottershead. Rickan tied for second on the team with 10 points, two behind Mottershead’s 12. SU’s offense completely dominated in shots throughout the season. They had almost 100 more shots (268-173) than their opponents, but only outscored those opponents 24-19.

Junior goalkeeper Brittany Anghel and a stout defense were also a big reason for the team’s improvement. Anghel finished the season with five shutouts, bringing her career total to 18, second all-time at SU, just two behind Eliza Bennett-Hattan for the school record.

Rickan said this year and this year’s team has set a standard for Syracuse soccer. Because of the Orange’s success this season, it has the potential to be a consistent Top-25 team. For Rickan and the entire team, the hard work is paying off, and it’s been worth it.

“It seemed like we had the community behind us and we never really had that before,” Rickan said. “When we would go out we would see people and they’d know, ‘Oh, you guys did well this weekend.’ We were like, ‘Wow, people are starting to know us.’”

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