STONY BROOK, N.Y. – Their sad, tired eyes told the story of a title quest halted before a celebratory conclusion, a disappointment none of the Syracuse players attempted to mask.
However, in the aftermath of a breakthrough season that saw the Orange compete for their first NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship, a challenge thwarted by a Northwestern dynasty that won its seventh crown in eight seasons Sunday night at Stony Brook University, Alyssa Murray offered a defiant promise.
“This isn’t the last you’ll see of us,” said the sophomore attacker, the nation’s leading scorer with 105 points, including 74 goals. “I kept telling myself afterward I can’t wait for summer and to hit the wall and keep working to get back here.”
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Syracuse (19-4) should return most of the squad that succeeded beyond expectations this season before dropping an 8-6 decision to Northwestern (21-2) – and should be bolstered by another strong recruiting class. Those returning will surelly benefit from the Orange’s improbable, but impressive, run to the title game.
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After an easy opening-round victory against Dartmouth, the Orange became the comeback kids of the bracket.
From three goals down in the final three minutes against North Carolina in the national quarterfinals, Syracuse shocked North Carolina, 17-16, when Michelle Tumolo scored with five seconds left in regulation.
In the semifinals Friday night against top-seeded Florida, the Orange overcame a 12-5 deficit in the final 17 minutes, benefited from a stick call on what would have been a game-winning goal for the Gators in the first overtime, and then scored themselves less than a minute into a second extra session to set up Sunday’s title matchup with Northwestern.
For most of the first half, the Orange got the better of the Wildcats. And, even after trailing 5-4 at intermission, goals by Murray and Tumolo helped forge a 6-all deadlock with 11:08 left.
However, the Wildcats did what they usually down the stretch of championship games. They imposed their will, playing keepaway after scoring a pair of goals that ensured Syracuse of a second-place finish in its first-ever championship-game appearance.
“We’ve learned a lot, first time through a championship game,” head coach Gary Gait said. “They were determined and overcame a lot to get here. I’m proud of them and what they accomplished this year.”
Most of Gait’s girls will be back next season for another title shot; Syracuse is one of the early favorites to hoist the walnut-and-bronze in 2013.
Of the wistful ones addressing the media afterward, Janelle Stegeland will only get to watch future title shots, one of four seniors who exhausted their eligibility Sunday night.
“We talked about that we got a taste today,” Stegeland said. “This team achieved a lot of benchmarks throughout the season.
“I think this team is going to come back and they’re going to win it.”
Syracuse will surely face still competition from a Florida team that should return intact, not to mention the reigning dynasty of Northwestern and potentially the likes of Maryland and North Carolina.
No matter. If you ask sophomore goalkeeper Alyssa Costantino, the disappointment of Sunday night’s outcome is “definitely something to motivate us for next year.”
After having their title quest halted before a championship conclusion, next year starts now.
Said Gait: “Now we have the added experience for the future, so this is valuable.”