Gary Gait paced the sidelines. He turned, flung his arms upward at the referee and told Syracuse associate head coach Regy Thorpe that Nicole Levy had used an illegal stick because of an untied shooting string. Levy served a two-minute, non-releasable penalty.
During Levy’s absence, Notre Dame rattled off three goals in slightly over a minute, turning its three-goal lead into an 11-4 blowout just five minutes into the second half.
The three-goal run by No. 15 Notre Dame (9-4, 3-1 Atlantic Coast) broke down No. 4 Syracuse’s (8-3, 2-1) defense. The Fighting Irish did not relent. Notre Dame’s offense swarmed the Syracuse defense and freshman goalie Asa Goldstock in the Orange’s 16-7 loss Sunday afternoon inside the Carrier Dome. Opponents have now scored 16 goals in each of SU’s past four games, three of which SU lost by at least seven goals.
“When you keep giving the other team opportunities to score,” Gait said, “it makes it very difficult.”
The Orange shot 7-of-30 and turned the ball over 16 times. Not only did Syracuse fail to convert on its chances, but SU gave extra possessions to UND, which wore down the defense with long, efficient possessions.
With 24:04 remaining in the first half and the score tied at one, Notre Dame won the draw. After a methodical possession with a missed free-position shot and a recovery, Heidi Annaheim scored on Goldstock. Syracuse defended well for over 70 seconds, only to give up a goal.
The Fighting Irish controlled the majority of the first half, with several possessions lasting 70 and 80 seconds. Several times, such as Annaheim’s goal, SU failed to double team a cutting attacker, resulting in one-on-one situations against Goldstock.
“We really focused on deliberate offense,” Notre Dame head coach Christine Halfpenny said, “where we could get the ball through as many people’s hands as possible.”
The Fighting Irish also scored quick, easy goals early in the shot clock. Down 6-4, Syracuse had one last possession with no shot clock. Rather than taking the last shot, SU junior midfielder Neena Merola shot with 18 seconds left. Notre Dame turned the shot for a fast break with one second left to take a 7-4 halftime lead.
Syracuse struggled offensively in the first half and gave up seven goals, but a three-goal lead was in reach. SU had come back from far worse this season. Against Virginia three weeks ago, SU overcame an 11-2 first-half deficit.
Less than four minutes into the second half on Sunday, Casey Pearsall took two SU defenders far post and whipped a shot in the top left corner past Goldstock to extend the UND lead. After the goal, Halfpenny called an illegal stick on Levy.
With a man up, Notre Dame scored 24 seconds into Levy’s penalty. But because the penalty was non-releasable, Levy had to remain on the sideline. SU continued to defend down a player, and Notre Dame scored again 46 seconds later. And again 26 seconds after that. Even after Levy’s return, the visitors scored one minute later. The Fighting Irish turned its three-goal lead into eight in three minutes, an offensive stretch that beat both of Syracuse’s totals from each half.
“Our goal was to get in there and run our offense,” Halfpenny said, “and not waste time.”
Notre Dame scored its 14th and 15th goals less than 90 seconds apart from each other, then managed to use 84 seconds on the shot clock before scoring its 16th goal with one minute to play. All game, Notre Dame mixed long possessions with a barrage of quick attacks. The Orange surrendered 16 goals on 30 shots.
“On the defensive end we always need to prepared to play 90 seconds consecutively,” Syracuse defender Kathy Rudkin siad, “and expect the ball to be on our end a lot and just step up when we can.”