Orange's Murray returns from injury
Syracuse looks to capture program's first national championship
Alyssa Murray became a lacrosse legend at West Babylon (N.Y.) High School, establishing Empire State records for goals and assists well before she tore up her right knee midway through her senior season.
Strangely, the setback of a torn anterior cruciate ligament proved a blessing for the sophomore attackwoman, Syracuse's (18-3) leading scorer entering Friday night's national semifinal against top-seeded Florida (19-2) at Stony Brook University's Kenneth G. Lavalle Stadium.
“Now I'm back and as good as ever,” Murray said cheerfully.
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Murray is enjoying a memorable season, having already set the school single-game record with eight goals in Syracuse's opener against Boston Colllege, ultimately setting the tone for a season that saw her become the Orange's third 100-point scorer after her four-point performance in a 17-16, NCAA quarterfinal victory against North Carolina.
However, before Murray became the player Gary Gait recruited out of West Babylon High School – “She was one of the top three recruits in the country,” Syracuse's head coach said – there was the matter of rebuilding her knee and revamping her game.
Because, despite New York State's scholastic standardbearer with 284 goals and 279 assists, she recorded those gaudy numbers relying almost solely on her speed. While missing Syracuse's 2010 fall ball season prior to the 2011 campaign, she learned the nuances of the college game.
Patience. Quickness. Spacing. As her knee rounded into its previous form, Murray began to play like a top-three recruit, with her newly developed skill set meshing nicely with the speed she rediscovered.
“It made me realize that I have to figure out how to be successful in other ways,” Murray said.
Late in her rookie season, Murray started to feel like her old self, eventually ending her first season with the Orange ranking third on the team with 48 points. Twenty-four goals. Twenty-four assists. Relatively modest numbers compared to previous expectations, but a portend of what was to come in 2012.
“She was a dominant player,” Gait said. “We hoped she would turn out the way she has. … We knew she had the potential.”
Instead of seeing progress later in the season like her freshman year, Murray found the back of the cage eight times against Boston College in a record-setting performance that ultimately foreshadowed a remarkable individual campaign. On 11 occasions, she recorded five or more points, including a seven-goal showing against UConn and a six-score performance against Rutgers.
“My confidence in my ability to play at this kind of level (grew),” said Murray, who has tallied 70 goals while doling out 30 assists. “And I think our team chemistry … I just think I'm the beneficiary of the plays that other people make. I owe a lot of it to my teammates.”
Together, Syracuse is back in the national semifinals for the third time in five seasons. Although the Orange have never defeated a top-ranked team, they dealt top-seeded Florida its last setback, a 12-11, overtime loss on March 3 despite getting just a goal and an assist from Murray.
“We're two different teams from when we played last,” Murray said.
Just like Syracuse's high-scoring sophomore is a different player from the one who joined the Orange last year.