Despite falling short in national championship, departing senior class elevates Syracuse into 1 of nation’s elite programs
Spencer Bodian | Staff Photographer
Katie Webster entered Syracuse’s locker room with tears in her eyes after losing the national championship game to Maryland. The senior struggled to look up at the group of teammates she’d never play with again.
But when she did, what she saw surprised her. All of the underclassmen were crying just as hard.
“They wanted (the seniors) to have a national championship,” Webster said. “They had tears in their eyes just like we did. They felt just how we did. They’re going to be coming back hungry to win one for themselves, and even for us.”
The senior class leaves Syracuse as the most successful in program history, but without a national championship to highlight its tenure. And while the ultimate goal remains unattained, the past four years have seen Syracuse establish itself in a seemingly untouchable realm of elite women’s lacrosse programs.
Before this class, only the 2010 team had reached the final four. This year marked the third time in a row SU appeared in the national semifinals, and its second national championship appearance in three years. The Orange boasted the nation’s two top scorers in Kayla Treanor and Alyssa Murray, and finished with 21 wins.
The disappointment of leaving empty-handed gave the seniors a reason to cry, but the success gave them a reason to reflect on the powerful legacy they’re leaving.
“We don’t have any regrets,” departing senior Alyssa Murray said. “We had a historic season for Syracuse. Even though our class isn’t going to be there to experience it, we’re just making building blocks for future teams.”
It was Murray that boasted before the season started that this team’s mind-set was “national championship or bust.” It was a bold, yet fair assessment of a season defined by high expectations.
And for the most part, the Orange fulfilled them. SU started out the year outscoring Jacksonville and Stetson 46-7 on its opening road trip. When the competition got harder, Syracuse rose to the occasion, beating nine Top 10 teams.
SU jumped to the top of the rankings after a 12-9 win over then-No. 1 North Carolina on April 12. It blew out many opponents, but pulled off gritty wins as well.
In the final regular season game, Syracuse was down 12-9 to Loyola, but scored three goals in the final 4:46, and two more in overtime to win. The victory solidified the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and the Orange was eliminated in the national championship by the only team ranked higher.
“The loss was really hard, it took me a couple days to get over,” Webster said. “… I just started thinking about the positives and all the great times that we had and all the wins that we did have and the history that we made.”
Murray said that her first year in the program came after many of the starters had graduated. Almost everyone who got playing time in 2011 was stepping into new roles.
Syracuse wasn’t the same elite program that it has since become. Maryland, Northwestern and North Carolina ruled an almost impenetrable landscape.
But it took only two years for Syracuse to reach the national championship with a group of players that lacked long-term experience.
“It’s really the players who came before them that allowed us to recruit these players,” SU head coach Gary Gait said after his team’s semifinal win over Virginia this year. “It’s really a program that’s put this together to provide this opportunity.”
And now, Murray said, it’s her class’ success that will allow Syracuse to continue to recruit the high-level athletes the Orange needs to contend for a national championship every year.
In the near future, though, Murray said it will fall on the shoulders of players that have not yet gotten their chance.
Players like Erica Bodt, Kelly Cross, Lisa Rogers and Taylor Poplawski can be the next crop of Syracuse scorers, Murray said, but also the group of players that continue to push the Orange program forward in the same way her class did.
“We’ve been able to attract really good players, players that are really heavily recruited,” Murray said. “And they’re finding interest in Syracuse … We got good and now everyone wants to come to Syracuse.
“It has so much more appeal than it had in the past.”
Published on June 3, 2014 at 3:27 pm