Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern survives late No. 5 Syracuse surge in 18-15 season opening victory

Francesco Thorik-Saboia/The Daily Northwestern
Senior defender Kendall Halpern gets set against Syracuse Saturday. Halpern tallied three caused turnovers and three ground balls in the victory.

As Ryan Fieldhouse’s gray tarp lifted from its glass wall, showcasing Saturday’s glimmering midday sun against Lake Michigan, two storied programs prepared for their second consecutive season-opening showdown.

“It’s a great rivalry. We’re really just excited for the opportunity to get to play a different opponent,” senior defender Kendall Halpern said. “We showed out … It’s great for us to see them first again.”

Though the journey back to Cary, North Carolina’s Final Four proved arduous for even the most pristine perennial powerhouses. No. 1 Northwestern and No. 5 Syracuse both looked to kick off their campaigns with a primary mark in the win column.

Behind graduate student attacker Erin Coykendall’s eight points, the Wildcats (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) prevailed in a wire-to-wire victory against the Orange (0-1, 0-0 ACC). Seven NU players found twine Saturday in a balanced attacking clinic.

“(There was) just really good movement from our offense in general, a lot of good cut-throughs and people making those sacrificial cuts to really draw the defense,” Coykendall said. ‘Whether it was me scoring the goal, or me having the assist, I was just the one at the end of the play, but all the credit goes to our offense.”

After junior defender Sammy White grabbed the game’s opening draw control, the ’Cats seemed to pick up right where they left off in last May’s national championship, overpowering Syracuse’s pressure zone with eight first-quarter conversions. 

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s team fired 15 shots in the first period — with 11 attempts on the cage. Graduate student goalkeeper Molly Laliberty and her defensive unit conceded just two goals in the opening 15 minutes, while the former Tufts star tallied four saves in the frame.

Sophomore attacker Madison Taylor took just 22 seconds to tally NU’s opening goal, darting through the Orange defense en route to a clinical conversion. The visitors seemed to have no answers for Coykendall, who completed her hat trick with just eight seconds remaining in the opening period.

“She was sharing the ball well, seeing things and how they develop,” Amonte Hiller said of Coykendall. “She was able to take advantage of those open looks and get us easier type goals.”

While the ’Cats held Syracuse in check during the first quarter, the Orange swiftly shook off their attacking cobwebs to get back into contention. Syracuse attacker Olivia Adamson and midfielders Natalie Smith and Emma Tyrrell combined for second-quarter scores to render signs of once dormant firepower.

However, NU responded to each Orange advance with a firm counterpunch. Coykendall conducted an opportune offensive scheme, notching a goal and an assist in the period. Junior midfielder Samantha Smith and graduate student attacker Izzy Scane also added scores to settle an 11-6 halftime margin. 

Natalie Smith and Syracuse midfielder Maddy Baxter began the second half on the frontfoot, tallying three scores midway through the third quarter. Although graduate student midfielder Lindsey Frank scored her second of three goals amid the run, the Orange seemed in control.

“We welcome the challenge — it’s really good for us,” Halpern said. “(We’d) rather that than go out and win by 10.”

Then, Taylor took an inch of space and made Syracuse pay with just under six minutes left in the frame. Two minutes later, White gathered a second-chance shot that Orange goalkeeper Delaney Sweitzer could only parry back to the All-American, and she buried the finish.

With Adamson and Taylor scoring last minute goals in the third quarter’s final minute, the ’Cats led 15-10 with just 15 minutes of action remaining.

While NU’s draw-taking trio of Samantha Smith, freshman midfielder Madison Smith and junior midfielder Serafina DeMunno had fortified a significant draw control advantage, Syracuse flipped the script in the final quarter, making for a close-run fight to the final horn.

Amonte Hiller said she was impressed with her team’s overall performance in the circle, but felt wary of a few moments.

“Down the stretch, we lost a few in a row — and that’s how they were able to capitalize,” Amonte Hiller said. 

After Adamson opened the final period’s scoring with a pair of conversions, Orange attacker Emma Ward finally found her scoring form despite consistent defensive attention.

A player Amonte Hiller praised as “phenomenal” earlier in the week, Ward worked her way in front of the cage for two goals in less than a minute to bring Syracuse back within a goal.

“She’s really dangerous. The pressure that we put on her — in moments it was stifling, and in other moments she was able to break through,” Amonte Hiller said. “Anytime you play against great attackers, they’re gonna break through … We just need to learn to minimize those breakthroughs as much as possible.”

Right on cue, Frank and Scane packed potent responses, and Samantha Smith added a final NU goal to solidify the 18-15 win. 

For Coykendall, the team’s lessons learned superseded Saturday’s scoreline.

“It’s more important that we play a quality opponent and have data to learn from,” Coykendall said. “We have a lot to learn from — especially offensively. There’s a lot of area for growth and room for improvement there.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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