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ND Women’s Lax; Irish lose Big East opener in OT heartbreaker to Syracuse

Joe Meixell | Monday, March 17, 2008

No. 12 Notre Dame opened Big East play with a heartbreaking 16-13 overtime loss to No. 6 Syracuse yesterday in the Loftus Center.

Senior captain Caitlin McKinney led the Irish (5-3, 0-1) with four goals and two assists, as Notre Dame overcame a three-goal halftime deficit with a dominating second half effort that fell short in the extra periods.

“Well, [the loss] stinks because we came back and when we were in the huddle, I really think everyone truly believed we were going to win it,” McKinney said. “We had the heart and the effort, that was all there, but sometimes I feel like you don’t catch a break in certain situations, and we didn’t catch one today.”

The Irish and the Orange (5-1, 1-0) traded scoring runs throughout the game. Orange attack Katie Rowan put away four goals in the first half to extend the Syrcause lead to 7-3 with 13 minutes left to play.

Notre Dame scored four unanswered goals over the next five minutes to knot the game up, but Syracuse struck right back, scoring three more times to take a 10-7 halftime lead.

“I think sometimes you have to assess your opponent, so going into the game we thought one thing and then I think we made some adjustments,” Irish head coach Tracy Coyne said. “I think when we adjust we usually do pretty well.”

Those adjustments, especially those to improve Notre Dame’s draw control, paid off in the second half, as the Irish made the Orange offense a non-factor by controlling possession for 12 straight minutes and scoring four straight goals to take an 11-10 edge. The teams traded goals from there, though, with Syracuse tying it at 13-13 with 6:39 to play.

“We knew it was going to be a possession game,” Coyne said. “We both have very high powered offenses, so I think when you face two teams like that you know it’s going to be high scoring and every possession’s going to count.”

Syracuse played in overtime the way the Irish did for much of the second half, and Notre Dame never mustered so much as a shot on goal in the two three-minute bonus periods. The visitors controlled the opening draw and scored on its initial possession of the first overtime, and then the Orange buried the Irish by finding the net twice more in the second.

“I think with overtime, it’s a lot of emotion and momentum, and the ball was bouncing a lot to them,” McKinney said of the Irish’s inability to pounce on any groundball opportunities in overtime. “I think in overtime, even though you probably shouldn’t, you kind of go into do-or-die mode, and when the ball keeps bouncing toward them, it gets hard to get that edge.”

Despite being out-shot 35-27 – including 17-6 in the second half – the Orange were the more efficient team, scoring on all three of its free-position opportunities. Syracuse was heavily penalized throughout the match, committing 27 fouls to Notre Dame’s 15, but the Irish were only able to convert on five of its 10 free-position shots.

The Irish controlled the first four draws of the second half but were outdrawn 8-3 from there – a frustrating statistic for Coyne, who has been forced to reemphasize the importance of the draw control during the intermission of Notre Dame’s last two games.

Not all is lost for the Irish, though, as they showed resiliency and marked improvement from their struggles over spring break.

“I think we’ve come along way since the California week, and I think we’ve proven that we can play with the top teams,” Coyne said. “So I think it’s just about refocusing over these next couple weeks. We have a lot of big games on our schedule, a lot of ranked teams on our schedule. We have the Big East tournament, and we have a lot of things we can focus on in terms of working to get better.”

But the Irish are not moving past the Orange yet.

“The good thing to come out of it is that we’ll be playing them again in the Big East tournament in our stadium,” McKinney said. “I think the generated emotion and rivalry will only [serve us well] when we go against them again, so let them have this one but they’re not getting the next.”