COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- After UConn erased a 3-1 second-half deficit to defeat Syracuse 4-3 in the 2012 Big East tournament final, the two teams left the field not knowing when, if ever, they would face each other again.
The game, in which UConn scored the game-winning goal with 16 seconds left, was Syracuse’s last in the Big East; it joined the ACC the following year.That nail-biter, many thought, would be the end of a spirited rivalry that saw the two schools play each other six consecutive times in the Big East tournament from 2007-2012 and at least once in the regular season every year since 1992.
Two years later the rivalry is being renewed on the sport’s biggest stage. UConn faces Syracuse at 1 p.m. Sunday in the NCAA field hockey national championship game at the University of Maryland.
Connecticut has been here before -- many times in fact. The Huskies will attempt to win their second national title in a row and fourth in school history. Syracuse, however, is making its first appearance in the championship game.
“We’re in the process of writing history,” Syracuse coach Ange Bradley said. “Hopefully history will be kind to us."
It has so far.
Syracuse beat the top-ranked North Carolina on Friday in penalty strokes to advance to Sunday’s championship. The Orange survived a frantic overtime period in which they played with one less player for five minutes when Laura Hurff was sent off after receiving a yellow card.
“We’re not satisfied yet,” Syracuse’s Emma Russell said after the win.
Bradley said that Friday’s win showed the Orange are “able to compete with anybody in the country,” even the defending champions. And even though Sunday’s game is the biggest in program history, she, like so many coaches do, maintains her squad needs to think of it as “just another game” and not the national championship.
“If you look at the end product, you get focused on the future and you lose sight of what you can control,” she said.Connecticut leads the all-time series 27-9-1, but Bradley, always focused solely on her own team, downplayed the rivalry.
“We’re in the ACC right now,” she said. “The Big East is in the past for us. I don’t even know what to say about [the rivalry].”
However, Connecticut has a greater public appreciation for the matchup.
“I was particularly saddened when Syracuse and a number of other schools left the Big East,” UConn head coach Nancy Stevens said after practice on Saturday. “To resume the rivalry -- it’s just in a different way against an ACC opponent -- makes it a little bit extra special.”
UConn’s Charlotte Veitner, a freshman from Dusseldorf, Germany, leads the team with 18 goals and 13 assists. She’s scored five goals so far in the NCAA Tournament and is looking to write a fairytale ending to a first-year script that resembles something from Hollywood.
“It’s really exciting that I actually get to play in a championship game,” Veitner said.
“Everything was overwhelming and we just keep getting better.”
UConn squeaked by Albany on Friday night with a 1-0 victory. That performance, which Stevens labeled a “defensive masterpiece,” is something she hopes her players can repeat on Sunday against the Orange.
“We have to limit their fast-break opportunities,” Stevens said. “Their forwards have excellent speed and can finish.”
“I love playing them,” UConn’s Chloe Hunnable said of Syracuse. She was a sophomore in 2012. “It’s always really close between us. It’s such a rivalry. It’s actually really exciting I get to play them in my last ever game for UConn.”