Syracuse's lacrosse teams share bond
When Alyssa Murray was growing up in the lacrosse hotbed of Long Island, she would go and watch programs like Syracuse whenever they visited Hofstra or Stony Brook. She said, for her, lacrosse invoked the imagery of orange and blue on the field.
In 2007, Syracuse hired Gary Gait to become its coach. He was a player on three Orange championship teams in the late 1980s and early '90s.
"It really sparked my interest when Gary became head coach because of his ability," said Murray, now a junior. "Then, he wound up recruiting me."
Now, Murray, Gait and the Syracuse women's team are part of the school's lacrosse tradition, where they are on equal footing with the men. Both the men and women will compete in the NCAA final four this weekend. The women will play in Villanova, Pa., on Friday and Sunday and the men in Philadelphia on Saturday and Monday.
"It's something that you always hope for, for the school," junior midfielder Amy Cross said. "It's an awesome experience. No matter what happens, we'll always have this."
The No. 4 seed Syracuse women will face No. 1 Maryland at 7:30 p.m. ET Friday (ESPN3) at Villanova Stadium. No. 3 North Carolina faces No. 2 Northwestern, the defending champ, at 5 p.m. ET (ESPN3). Syracuse has reached the final four in four of the past six seasons.
The proximity of the two venues makes it logistically easy for players from both programs, who have supported each other all along, to continue that support during the final four. The men's team plans to attend the women's games, and vice versa, even though as Murray said: "We have a lot to focus on individually, but we like to support each other." The school has given the teams equal billing on the website, and a search for either program takes you to a page celebrating both.
"When you look at Syracuse, the first thing you think about is lacrosse," Cross said.
This year the cooperation has extended off the field. The teams have worked at charity events together and often attended each other's games. Gait has also compared notes with men's coach John Desko, and Gait continues to incorporate what he learned as a part of the men's winning tradition.
"I've taken a lot from [former] coach [Roy] Simmons and the attitude is -- the only thing that matters is going for the gold," said Gait, referencing the 15 national titles the men have won.
Winning it all is something that the women's program hasn't experienced. However, they have broken into the elite ranks by consistently challenging during the late stages of the NCAA tournament, just like Florida, who the women defeated to reach a semifinal.
The Orange will face a tough road this weekend. Maryland (Cuse's semifinal opponent) and Northwestern (in the other semi) have combined to win the past eight NCAA titles. Northwestern has seven of those, with Maryland winning in 2010. The Terrapins, however, won seven straight starting in 1995.
One of Gait's championship teams will be honored on the field before a men's semifinal. He said his former teammates have scheduled the weekend so they can attend all of Syracuse's games. They will be just a few of the fans making the commute.
"It's a lot of lacrosse for everyone to watch," Murray said.