Syracuse makes backline a point of emphasis in October

first_img Published on October 15, 2019 at 11:14 pm Contact Danny: [email protected] | @DannyEmerman As No. 1 North Carolina strung passes together through the midfield in the first quarter, Syracuse needed some direction. “Step right!” center back Claire Webb shouted right before SU forced a turnover. Throughout the UNC game on Oct. 12, even as Syracuse possessed the ball, Webb called out instructions to fellow defenders Olivia Graham and SJ Quigley, making sure they know which Tar Heels forwards to mark.Syracuse’s defenders, led by Webb, have always communicated, but not like this. Not this loud, not this constant. The commands have never changed for Syracuse’s defense, but the results have.Since Syracuse (8-4, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) gave up 28 shots to then-No. 2 Duke, the Orange have made patching up the backline their main priority, head coach Ange Bradley said. SU’s defense, in the midst of a stretch playing five straight top-20 teams, has trended upward, allowing progressively fewer shots in each of its next three games — 15 to California, 11 to Stanford, and seven to No. 1 North Carolina on Saturday.“It’s good our numbers are going down,” Webb said, “But it doesn’t mean we can work any less hard. We still have a long way to go.”Despite the improvement, Syracuse remains last in the ACC in goals allowed per game (1.75). SU has emphasized communication to stay organized, calm and connected to limit teams to fewer shots, penalty corners and goals, freshman back Olivia Graham said.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textCommunication starts with Webb, but goalkeeper Sarah Sinck is tasked with letting her backline know where opposing strikers are and who to mark. Her first role is to stop shots, but her second job is to “coach” the backline, Sinck said. The team uses concise, basic phrases like “step left,” to indicate where a defender should be positioned, or “step up” when a defender should pressure the ball-carrier.It’s crucial because of Syracuse’s inexperience. Sinck, a freshman, plays behind freshman back Olivia Graham and SJ Quigley, who’s in her first year as a defender after converting from forward. Webb, a senior, brings the most experience, but this is her first time in a leadership role.Karleigh Merritt-Henry | Digital Design EditorBradley said it would be “completely unfair” to compare this year’s backline to ones in recent years. Roos Weers (5-foot-11) and Lies Lagerweij (6-foot-1) provided a rare combination of size, athleticism, skill and awareness. Now, the Webb-Graham-Quigley trio — none of which are over 5-foot-7 — have to make up for length with discipline.“I think we’re working with what we have,” Webb said. “You can’t magically grow taller.”But the defense, at times, hasn’t been as sharp as it’s needed to be since the loss to Duke. With five minutes remaining against Stanford on Oct. 5, the Orange allowed two goals that erased their previous 2-1 lead. One Cardinal goal came on a one-on-one, the other came on a defensive mistake while possessing the ball. With under a minute left, the Orange could’ve dribbled out the clock along the sideline, Sinck said. Instead, SU tried passing it back into the middle, where a Cardinal forward intercepted it and scored the game-winner.“When you have a better opponent, they can read how we play better,” Sinck said. “If we make a mistake, they will see it and punish us right away, whereas weaker teams might not take advantage.”Against the top teams in the nation, though, sometimes limiting their shot attempts isn’t enough. Holding No. 1 UNC to a season-low seven shots on Oct. 12 was impressive, since UNC averages a conference-high 16.5 shots per game, but UNC still converted three of those shots into goals.2019’s backline is not the defense Syracuse has relied on in the past. It’s not the 2015 Championship team that held opponents to one goal per game. But they do have time to improve before the conference tournament begins on Nov. 7.“This line offers different things that that line didn’t,” Bradley said. “They’re just young.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img