Syracuse is narrowing its search for draw specialists

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first_img Comments Published on March 6, 2019 at 10:33 pm Contact KJ: [email protected] | @KJEdelman As Julie Cross jogged to the bench, she looked around the Syracuse sideline. Her teammates stood next to her, watching Syracuse extend its lead over Virginia last Saturday. Tucked between a screen, the front of the bleachers and three coaches was Braelie Kempney, the freshman draw specialist who took the first 10 draws of the day. The coaches surrounded Kempney. Cross stood alone.After her second-straight missed draw, Cross threw her stick toward the opposite side of the bleachers. Cross wouldn’t line up for another draw, and Kempney finished the game.A year after Cross took over draw duties following Morgan Widner’s ACL tear, the pair’s playing time has dwindled, along with the four-to-five player draw control rotation head coach Gary Gait deployed early in the season. As Syracuse’s (6-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) ACC opponents stacked up, it couldn’t rotate as often. It had to thin the rotation for consistent success. Most recently, the unit was overpowered by Northwestern, 20-11. What started as two-draw “staggers” by Emily Hawryschuk, Sam Swart, Cross, Kempney and Widner, has shortened to two players: a freshman, and Syracuse’s leading-scorer.“Right now, it’s Emily and (Kempney). And Morgan and Julie are right there when we need them,” Gait said. “But with those two, that’s the direction we’re heading.”Widner was primed to be SU’s top specialist last season. She was coming off a freshman campaign that rose her to seventh in the nation in draw controls per game, but three games into 2018, she tore her ACL. Hawryschuk pitched in during her absence, but Cross took the majority. Going into the season with the return of Widner, Gait insisted on “riding the hot hand” throughout with a plethora of talent on the draw.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe unit meets with assistant coach Caitlin Defliese before games and diagrams a game plan for opposing specialists. Whether it’s pulling the ball one direction or pushing against a weaker player in the draw, it’s given the Orange an advantage.“No matter (who’s out there),” Kempney said. “The first couple of draws shouldn’t be a question until they start figuring us out.”Anna Henderson | Digital Design EditorAgainst lower-tier teams, those strategies have worked. Seven more draws than Connecticut. A 15-of-16 stretch versus Coastal Carolina. Gait sent subs frequently to the 50-yard line, and the wins followed without fault.When challenged, though, it’s strong draw play halted. As SU’s 7-2 lead against No. 1 Boston College slipped, Sam Apuzzo, last year’s Tewaaraton winner, dug the ball out of Widner’s stick. Then, Hawryschuk and Cross lost their tries. Soon, Gait was forced to put Kempney in — her first action in Orange, and she was bullied like the rest of SU.But Gait noticed her raw talent, he said. Her “spectacular” fall ball was sidetracked when she suffered a concussion over winter break. But against BC, she played herself into the rotation.A week later, a similar situation arose. This time, a 12-9 SU lead was followed by five-consecutive Northwestern goals. Gait tried his rotation again. Nothing. His team fought to overtime and lost the opening draw. But a Wildcats turnover and a Hawryschuk game-winner bailed them out. Syracuse hadn’t given a single specialist more than five draws in a row all year, and it struggled in the middle, losing overall, 20-11.“Again, when we get to these tougher games,” Gait said on Feb. 18. “We might have to find the better matchup and go with that pursuit.Five minutes before the starting lineup was announced against Virginia last Saturday, Gait walked over to Kempney and told her she’d start. She got nervous right away, but it was only for the first couple of draws, she thought. Like every other game. Then she won three draws in a row.Then, she was out there for a fifth. After her sixth, Gait, Defliese and associate head coach Regy Thorpe huddled around her after two misses. “Switch it up,” one of them said to her. Caitlin told her to remember the film. Her opponent was moving her wrist too fast, so the freshman started to push “really, really hard.” After 10-straight draws, Cross subbed in for two, was pulled, and Hawryschuk and Kempney finished out the game in draw control.“(Kempney) needs to be more aggressive to getting to the ball, but it’s there,” Gait said. “And Emily did a great job when we used her. The two are different, but it works.”Gait’s eager to point out there’s still questions down the line about the draw. It’s not even midway through the season, he said, and the Orange have come up short on the draw against every top-10 opponent this year. For now, the lineup has narrowed. Syracuse is finding its favorites, and the backups that might need to contribute.“We just want to win them, you know,” Gait said. “Let’s just get the best ones out there. And if things aren’t going well, we’ll mix it up.”center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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