Women's Soccer

SU finishes disappointing first ACC season with reasons for optimism

Missed opportunities and tightly contested losses to the best teams in the country were the themes of Syracuse’s inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“It wasn’t that we didn’t create opportunities,” head coach Phil Wheddon said. “It was just the final product.”

Syracuse (7-11-1, 3-9-1 ACC) finished the season 12th in the ACC out of 14 teams, ahead of North Carolina State and Pittsburgh, that went winless in the conference. The Orange missed the cutoff of the top eight teams in the conference that qualify for the ACC tournament.

SU was well aware of the steep competition it would be facing after exiting the Big East last season and heading into a conference that features four of the top six programs in the nation.

Transition was a big part of the year for the Orange, which had to studiously utilize game footage to pick up on tendencies and strategies from opponents that it had never played before.

“Everything is stronger, bigger and faster in the ACC,” forward Erin Simon said. “I had to up my level of play to compete”

Offensive production was clearly the paramount issue for Syracuse. Ranking second-to-last in the ACC in shots taken with 165, SU’s offensive efforts were often met with either a stronger defense or a turnover.

The Orange scored 13 goals against ACC competition, but was also shut out a whopping seven times. The Syracuse offense looked punchless at times and the coaches worked season long to adjust and readjust offensive strategy, but struggled to find a groove.

“It was a season long struggle for us to put the ball in the back of the net,” midfielder Jackie Firenze said. “We had to finish the couple opportunities that we got in each game and we could only do that for a few games.”

While scoring chances were limited all season, the Orange consistently rolled out one of the strongest, most venerable defenses in the ultra-competitive conference.

SU went wire-to-wire with the best teams in the country, suffering 1-0 losses to top 10, nationally ranked Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Florida State and North Carolina. Syracuse allowed an average of 1.27 goals per game, ranking eighth best in the ACC.

“To have one-goal and overtime games against the best teams in the country consistently,” said Wheddon, “I think is a testament to how organized the team was and how much they bought into our game plan.”

The strongest facet of Syracuse’s defense came in the presence of seniors Rachel Blum and Kayla Afonso, who have anchored the SU defense since they first set foot on the field back in 2010. Blum started every game for Syracuse in her collegiate career and Afonso has been a mainstay in the counterattack for several seasons as well.

“The seniors are going to be greatly missed,” Simon said. “They were very key players in our defense.

“Rachel was our vocal leader, Kayla was the attacking threat. She was the girl in the back everyone was kind of scared of.”

The backbone of the Orange’s defense came in the form of the second-most successful goalie in terms of saves in the history of the program — Brittany Anghel. Anghel recorded 78 saves on the season, the second most in the conference.

In the final game against Boston College, she netted her final six saves in a Syracuse uniform to give her 303 in her career, second-most in program history behind Eliza Bennett-Hattan.

As seniors Jackie Moriarty, Cecilia Borgstrom, Blum, Afonso and Anghel depart, all sights are now set on spring conditioning and moving closer to kickoff 2014. Improvements need to be made across the field for the Orange going into next season.

The players had a sense of optimism, but Wheddon was clear and adamant when asked about his goals going into next season.

“ACC Tournament.”

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