Syracuse looks to improve defense when it faces No. 4 Duke on Saturday

first_imgIf Regy Thorpe is a professor, then Syracuse’s defenders are his students.Eleven games in — more than halfway through the season — the associate head coach says the collective group deserves a grade of a C-plus or a B-minus.“It’s a learning curve,” Thorpe said, “…when you haven’t started and you’re coming in and you haven’t played a ton of minutes.”At the end of last season, Syracuse lost three starting defenders to graduation and the coaches have been retooling their defensive arsenal ever since. The backline has had its ups and downs this season as its new pieces have fallen into place.But Syracuse’s defense will look to continue assimilating and eliminate its inconsistencies when the No. 6 Orange (8-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) travels to Durham to take on No. 4 Duke (9-1, 3-1 ACC) and its 15th-ranked offense on Saturday at 1 p.m.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Although we’re a lot of new faces on D, we’ve got a lot of new players that are contributing this year,” Thorpe said. “We’re a little deeper than last year but again it’s just we have to keep getting better.”At the start of the season, defender Mallory Vehar was the only returning defender with significant starting experience. Thorpe had questions of where everyone else was going to fit in.Brenna Rainone switched midfield to defense at the end of last year and Vehar was recovering from an ACL injury. Caroline Webster began the year as a starter, but has since been replaced by Haley McDonnell, who switched from attack to defense last season. Kaeli O’Connor, the final piece down low, only played in six games last season.“That’s kind of what coaching is all about,” head coach Gary Gait said. “Putting the team together, the puzzle together so the pieces fit perfectly.”The new pieces have plagued SU with inconsistency throughout the season as the Orange sits tied at 58th in the country in scoring defense — though it is playing the fourth toughest schedule.In a win against Cornell on March 17, SU’s defense dominated for the majority of the game. Cornell’s players were forced to stay well beyond the 12-meter mark and pressured into making bad passes and turning the ball over.But in parts of Sunday’s loss to then-No. 6 Northwestern, the Orange allowed the Wildcats’ offense to cut easily through the middle and take point-blank shots on SU goalie Kelsey Richardson.“We got a slow start on the defensive end and we made some adjustments and gave ourselves a chance in the second half,” Thorpe said.SU always wants to hold opponents to 10 goals or less each game, Thorpe said, and has a 90 percent win percentage when it has done so over the past five seasons.The biggest aspect of minimizing goals against is team defense and even more game experience together, Thorpe said.“A lot of chemistry is just having that time together, work out the kinks and get ready to go,” McDonnell said.Communication is even more important in the complex backer zone pressure defense that the Orange runs, McDonnell added, but it has been improving recently.She now knows where her teammates are going to be down low and has gotten so used to playing with Vehar that she’ll call out her name in practice even when they’re switching up the lineups and another defender is in Vehar’s usual position.“In the beginning, (we were) just not used to each other yet,” McDonnell said.And despite Thorpe’s average grade for the defense so far, he’s expecting it to take top form as Syracuse approaches the end of the season.“We’re probably at where we should be, maybe a little ahead,” Thorpe said. “… We’ve seen some good flashes in the last couple weeks…We’re getting there.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on March 26, 2015 at 12:10 am Contact Jon: [email protected] | @jmettuslast_img

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