STONY BROOK, N.Y. – On what could have been the final night of her collegiate career, Sarah Holden found herself stifled during the opening minutes of Syracuse’s NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship semifinal against top-seeded Florida.
For the first 10 minutes, the senior midfielder and her teammates fired shot after point-blank shot at the Gators’ goal, yet only found the back of the cage once. Before long, the fourth-seeded Orange found themselves trailing 7-3 at halftime and then 12-5 midway through the second half.
So when Holden saw an opening mere seconds into the sudden-victory second overtime, the senior seized it without thoughts of her lack of early-game success.
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“It [overtime] was all in slow motion,” recalled Holden, a Syracuse, N.Y. native. “I remember we were in our set offense and the goalie went down and made a save and I was certain that it would not happen to me again. So I did a split/dodge and buried it low and it went in.
“It was an amazing feeling.”
From the lows of a seven-goal deficit, Holden scored three goals across the final 6:28 of regulation – including a tally with 30 seconds remaining – before her game-winning and career-high-tying fourth score 58 seconds into the sudden-victory extra session delivered Syracuse into the national championship game for the first time, where it will play a Northwestern squad vying for its seventh title in eight seasons Sunday night at Stony Brook’s Kenneth P. Lavalle Stadium.
Holden’s goal not only capped a 14-13 victory against top-seeded Florida. But it also ended the second biggest comeback in tournament history, paling only compared to Virginia overcoming a 13-4 deficit to defeat Duke by a 14-13 final score in 2007.
“Sarah Holden got the last shot and buried it,” Syracuse head coach Gary Gait said. “I’m so proud of her for not giving up.”
If anything, Syracuse (19-3) barely needed to jot its memory to remember how to stage a remarkable comeback. Six days earlier, the Orange trailed North Carolina by a 16-14 margin with less than three minutes left before three consecutive goals dealt the Tar Heels an improbable, but nonetheless impressive, 17-16 defeat thanks to Michelle Tumolo’s score.
However, this was different. This was realizing, as much as Holden tried not to, that four years of camaraderie and comebacks could end if Syracuse could not rally from a 12-5 deficit against the Gators.
“It was an emotional roller coaster out on the field. Down by seven, potentially your last game and being able to pull it out, it’s such an amazing feeling,” Holden said. “I’m so proud of my team.”
Outside of Tumolo’s tally with 10:05 left in regulation, seven of the Orange’s last eight goals came courtesy of Holden and Murray. She scored unassisted with 6:28 remaining, at the 2:49 mark off a feed from freshman Alyssa Murray, and then off a free-position shot with 30 seconds left shortly after a Florida turnover.
Although Florida appeared to win in the first overtime when Gabi Wiegand scored nine seconds before what would have been the final horn, but a stick check revealed Wiegan’s pocket proved too large.
With the goal disallowed, Syracuse had fresh life. An opportunity to complete an improbable comeback.
It all came down to Holden. A quick move toward the goal, a quick shot, and the Orange spilled across the stadium turf in celebration.
And now, Holden and Syracuse will get to play another game. This one for the Orange’s first national championship.