How Emma Ward Found Her Calling on the Lacrosse Field

Emma Ward wears No. 44 as a connection to her father, but she also understands the significance of those famed digits at Syracuse.

“I know 44 is a big Syracuse number — Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little,” Syracuse’s freshman attacker said. “I knew it was a big number here at ‘Cuse.”

No. 44 may be retired by the Syracuse football program, but it was available for lacrosse. Ward was quick to pick it.

“When I was in high school, I wore 44 during basketball because my dad wore 44 when he played high school basketball, too,” Ward said. “It’s kind of a family number, but over the summer choosing numbers, I thought it would be cool to carry on the legacy that I had with my dad wearing it and me wearing it for basketball, and once I finally got to Syracuse, I realized the significance of 44 and how it’s super cool to be able to wear the number.”

Ward, in fact, has something in common with those Syracuse football legends that comes out in lacrosse games, whether she is dodging or fighting through contact. From second through seventh grade, Ward was the only girl on her youth football team.

“I played a little quarterback, running back, linebacker,” the 5-foot-2 Ward said. “I kind of did it all — lots of hitting and contact — so I guess I grew that outer shell that contact and taking a hit doesn’t really faze me. It’s definitely helped now in college because it’s so much more of a physical game, so having that football background has really helped me.”

Ward did not stop playing football until she made the Babylon High School (N.Y.) varsity girls’ lacrosse team in seventh grade.

“It got to a point where the boys started getting too big and too strong for me,” Ward said. “I couldn’t really play anymore, but I knew my focus was going to be on lacrosse and I’d have a future in lacrosse and having a future in football wasn’t something I could see. I could see playing lacrosse.

“I miss it a lot. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss playing.”

“I kind of did it all — lots of hitting and contact — so I guess I grew that outer shell that contact and taking a hit doesn’t really faze me.”

Ward has found her calling on the lacrosse field.

She scored a career-high six goals with two assists as third-seeded Syracuse advanced to the Final Four with a 17-11 win over sixth-seeded Florida on Sunday. The Orange take on second-seeded Northwestern at 2:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday in the first of two national semifinals at Towson University.

“We’re super excited,” Ward said. “It’s been a long year with some tough injuries, so it’s been a long road. We’re really excited to finally be here. With everything we’ve gone through, the mindset has been the same. We knew that we were going to be able to get to this point and make a run for the national championship. Spirits are high, and we’re excited to get down to Maryland and show what we’ve been showing all season.”

Ward has helped to fuel the Orange success. She has become a go-to player down the stretch, seemingly improving every week, after adjusting to take on a more significant role early in the year out of necessity. Before Megan Carney was lost to a torn ACL, Emily Hawryschuk suffered the same injury after the season opener.

“Obviously, we were all devastated,” Ward said. “‘Chuk is one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen play. She’s amazing, and she does so much for us on the sidelines as a coach since she injured her knee in showing me the right way and helping other Syracuse players play the right way. I know how to play now.”

Ward was completely content to begin the year as an offensive midfielder. She was moved to Hawryschuk’s spot on attack to replace the team captain and preseason Tewaaraton frontrunner.

“I was super nervous,” Ward said. “She has really big shoes to fill. I’ve tried my best to fill them the best that I can, nowhere near the way that she was, but I’m doing my best, and with her guidance, I’ve been able to pick up some of the pieces that we’re missing because of not having her.”

Ward didn’t have a goal through the first two games of her college career, but she broke out with a four-goal, one-assist game in a 15-5 win over Duke on March 6.

“I never would have expected to have to fill the role that I have,” Ward said. “My teammates and coaches have really supported me and done a great job of helping me through what I’ve had to do and to be the player I need to be on this team right now. I’m thankful for them having my back and the guidance they’ve shown me all year.”

Ward had 13 goals and 19 assists through the Orange’s first 11 games. In eight games since, she has 25 goals and seven assists.

“First of all, it’s confidence,” Ward said. “More time under my belt playing at this level and playing with my teammates out there. Us having an understanding of each other, gaining that confidence, I think that helped. Another part of it is, it’s playoff time now. We’re getting closer and closer to this time. I started to pick up my play a little bit, do a little extra shooting, started to pick up my work ethic a bit and wanted to really make a difference for our team, a difference they needed me to make. I think I’m starting to pick up and be that difference that’s needed, but there’s still more to do and so much more to do this weekend. We’re going to finish it off the best we can.”

The Orange needed it in the quarterfinals against Florida. Tied at 5 at halftime, Syracuse coach Gary Gait emphasized sticking with the game plan to wear down Florida, thus creating more scoring opportunities. Ward and Emma Tyrrell led the way from there. Both scored twice in a 5-0 run that helped put the Gators on their heels. Ward scored three more goals in the half.

“Anybody that steps up like that and scores five goals in a playoff game in the second half is clutch,” Gait said after the game. “That was clutch, and it motivated everybody. It kept us in the game. Every time Florida made a run, she had an answer, as well as some of the other players. That’s what you need to have success. You have to rely on everybody, and it’s not going to be the same person every single day. She got the looks today and buried her shots.”


Ward has never shied away from the big moment. She played soccer and basketball at Babylon in addition to lacrosse. She played forward in soccer until tearing both of her ACLs in back-to-back years, forcing her to move to goalie. She made 12 saves as a senior to help Babylon win the Long Island Class B championship. And she excelled as No. 44 on the basketball court, where she played point guard and averaged double-digit points.

“I always say basketball was my favorite sport just because of how fun it was,” Ward said. “Lacrosse was always so serious for me, and I always had to put my best foot forward and basketball was my fun sport. If I went 0-for-12 shooting, it was fine and I would have just as much fun doing it.”

Ward put up 93 points on 63 goals and 30 assists in 2019, her last full season of high school, before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out her senior season in 2020. She’d have to go all the way back to 2019 to recall the last time she scored six goals in a game like she did against Florida.

“After the game, I didn’t really know what my stats were,” Ward said. “I knew I had picked up production [in the second half] and put a few in the net, but it was when we were doing our press conference after the game and I realized that. Six goals doesn’t really matter. It’s about getting that team win. I couldn’t have scored six goals without my teammates setting me up. All my success was because of them.”

Ward was willing to do whatever she could to help Syracuse return to its first Final Four since 2016. If that meant playing offensive midfield, she was willing to do it. If it meant moving up to pace the attack, she was fine with that as well. She’s done all that has been asked of her in her first year of college lacrosse and brought some less noticeable assets.

“One of the biggest plays she had,” said Gait of the Florida win, “was a full-field sprint back on D to stop a fast break and slow it down and let our defense get organized again.”

Ward continues to make strides in every area of her game. And with it, Syracuse gets better and better. Syracuse’s No. 44 hopes that trend continues.

“In the future, with ‘Chuk coming back next year and Carney coming back, I’m going to be able to learn a lot from them, seeing the whole field and developing my vision,” Ward said. “Moving forward, I want to continue to provide scoring and assists, but I think I have so much more to learn. That’s a big thing in my future. It’s not about the number of games you win. It really comes down to being able to learn from other people and learn from my coaches. I’m really excited for that in the future.”