Gait Blames Lack of Chemistry for Syracuse's Up-and-Down 2017


Syracuse's Riley Donahue — “underappreciated on a national level as the QB of the Orange offense.” per one rival coach — returns as a senior and top scorer.

US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Women’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 8. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on throughout January and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition that mails to US Lacrosse members Feb. 1 — opening day of the 2018 college lacrosse season.

No. 5 Syracuse

2017 Record: 15-7 (5-2 ACC)
Coach: Gary Gait (11th year)
All-Time Record: 271-108
NCAA Appearances: 15
Final Fours: 7
Championships: 0

An unexpected mumps outbreak caused fall ball to be cut short for Syracuse.

That meant an up-and-down team from 2017 — the Orange had two winning streaks of five or more games, a 1-4 stretch, a stunning one-goal loss to Louisville in the regular season finale, a seven-goal defeat against North Carolina in the ACC title game and a 21-10 blowout loss to Boston College in the NCAA tournament — had less time to rebound.

“It wasn’t our best year by any means,” coach Gary Gait said.

The NCAA granted Syracuse two additional weeks of preseason practice. That will help Gait break in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, a star-studded offense, a revamped defensive plan and assistance from volunteer goalie coach Matt Palumb, a former All-American goalie for the Orange.

Gait said Syracuse lacked the chemistry of teams that advanced to NCAA finals in 2012 and 2014 and went to seven final fours in the previous nine seasons. Look for that to change with an experienced core of players, including seniors Taylor Gait and Riley Donahue, juniors Nicole Levy and Natalie Wallon and sophomores Asa Goldstock and Morgan Widner.

Will 2018 finally be the year of the Orange?

“We’re focusing on the day-to-day nuances of what a championship-caliber team is like and that’s how we’re trying to define ourselves,” Gait said.

The Case For Syracuse

The offense is stacked. Syracuse returns its top three attackers in Riley Donahue, Emily Hawryschuk and Nicole Levy. Plus, draw specialist Morgan Widner is back. The new draw rules, which require players to remain behind the restraining line until possession is gained, is also expected to give the Orange an edge. “It will certainly help Morgan,” Gait said. “She has struggled handling the ball under pressure, so it will relieve some of the pressure of players coming off the line and double-teaming her.” A top-five freshman class, including attackers Sam Swart and Molly Carter, will also bolster Syracuse’s play.

The Case Against Syracuse

The Orange had seven losses in 2017, but only one Gait considered a “bad loss” — the one-goal defeat at the hands of Louisville. They graduated attacker Devon Parker, who tied for third in goals, but at the root of those losses was Syracuse’s defense, which ranked 55th in the nation. The team’s worst stat was caused turnovers, coming in at 79th. Gait tasked assistant Caitlin Defliese, former Stony Brook defensive coordinator, with devising a plan to revamp it. “Our defense is where I think we’re going to see a lot of change,” Gait said. “That’s one area we definitely need to improve on and we’re working on it.”

Path to the Playoffs

The 2017 season started strong for the Orange with seven straight wins, including a season-opening victory over eventual NCAA runner-up Boston College, which got revenge with a 21-01 victory over Syracuse in the NCAA tournament. The ACC slate again will be key to secure a better spot in the NCAA tournament. The Orange finished second in the ACC last year. But non-conference play is also essential with games scheduled against reigning NCAA champion Maryland, plus Cornell, Florida, Northwestern and Princeton.

Players To Watch

Riley Donahue, A, Sr.
42 G, 26 A

Donahue led the Orange in goals, assists and points, while also snagging 29 ground balls, 17 draw controls and seven caused turnovers. 

Nicole Levy, A, Jr.

25 G, 22 A

Levy’s sidearm shots and power to drive through defenders stand out in Syracuse’s offense. She may not be the leading scorer, but coaches continue to devise a plan for her.

Morgan Widner, D, So.

156 DC

Widner will play a big role for the Orange this year on the draw and defense. The new rules could compliment her play in the midfield. But perhaps more importantly, she needs to lead a developing defense as the only senior defender who started every game last year.

National Rankings




Offense 38th 12.86 GPG
Defense 55th 12.00 GAA
Draws 33rd 13.77/game
Ground Balls 34th 19.59/game
Caused TO 79th 8.23/game
Shooting 69th 40.4%
FP Shooting 72nd 39.3%
Yellow Cards 3rd 51
Assists 39th 5.73/game
Turnovers 56th 16.95/game
Shots 22nd 31.82/game

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)






National ranking for save percentage (40.7 percent) in 2017. Syracuse brought on Matt Palumb — a 1990 All-American goalie for the Orange men’s team — as a volunteer goalie coach to improve the position. “I thought it was important to revisit a goalie coach,” Gait said. “Combined with changes in the way we play defense, you’ll see a rise in save percentage.” Last year’s starter Asa Goldstock returns.

5-Year Trend
Yellow Cards




2013 8th 39
2014 4th 48
2015 3rd 43
2016 4th 47
2017 3rd 51

Coach Confidential
Gary Gait

“Creating some chemistry was our biggest weakness last year. We had the potential to beat anybody. We have the talent and ability, but you’ve got to put it together.”

Enemy Lines
Rival Coaches

“Will the new draw rule help them even more? ... A young team last year, Syracuse brought in a great recruiting class and will be much more experienced this season. Nicole Levy is great, as is their draw specialist. The new draws rules should give the Orange an even greater edge in that category. But to make any real noise, they need massive improvement in net. ... Donahue and Levy lead the Orange in 2018. Dynamic, skilled team. Are they disciplined enough? ... Young team that returns a ton of talent. Nicole Levy is dangerous and Riley Donahue is underappreciated on a national level as the QB of the Orange offense.”

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