COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- More than 24 hours before Syracuse’s national semifinal matchup against North Carolina, Orange coach Ange Bradley had just concluded a spirited practice on Thursday, where she could be heard from hundreds of yards away yelling encouragement and directions at her team.
As her players left the field and gathered their equipment for a post-practice stretch, Bradley stood in the middle of the field. She said she didn’t care who the team’s semifinal opponent was and that Friday’s game, and the season up to that point, was “all about Syracuse.”After Syracuse defeated the Tar Heels 3-2 in penalty strokes on Friday to advance to Sunday’s championship at 1 p.m., the conversation leading up to the title game will indeed be about her team, and how it knocked off the mighty Tar Heels, the team that knocked out the Orange in the 2012 semifinals.
The storyline, however, could easily be about her individual impact on the program.
Bradley is in her eighth season as head coach of the Orange. She came to upstate New York after spending six seasons coaching at Richmond, and before that, four years at Goucher College.
Under Bradley, Syracuse has advanced to the NCAA tournament in seven consecutive seasons. But 2014 marks the first year that it will play in the national championship game. And advancing couldn’t have been more difficult.
Syracuse was forced to play with only six players for a five-minute stretch in the first sudden-death overtime after Laura Hurff was given a yellow card. The Orange survived multiple odd-man rushes from North Carolina, and even withstood one penalty corner.
“We train toughness,” Bradley said. “We train adversity. It’s a good life lesson.”
This is the third final four in the past seven seasons for the Orange, but the first time the players will be sticking around for the whole weekend. When asked what finally advancing to the championship meant to her individually, she struggled to find an answer.
“You know, I haven’t even thought about it,” she said. “It’s something I don’t think I will think about until everything’s over. I don’t even know what to say. I’m honored to be able to lead these women.”
Bradley having nothing to say is funny to hear, especially if you notice her animated demeanor during play. She paces up and down the sideline, barking encouragement at her players, calling for substitutions and expressing her frequent displeasure with the referees.
“It’s about the emotion of the moment,” she said. "It’s nothing special.”But Sunday has the potential to be.
“We’re not satisfied yet,” Syracuse’s Emma Russell said. “We want to keep going.”
The Orange wouldn’t have been able to keep going if not for the play of goalie Jess Jecko, who made six saves, including a game-saving stop in overtime.
“Jess had a great day,” Bradley said. “She really kept us in the game. It’s so special for me to see her growth and maturity.”
When asked if she knew much about either of Syracuse’s potential opponents two days from now, Bradley said what she says best.
“It’s about Syracuse right now. I don’t really have much to say about our opponent.”