WLAX : Syracuse opens Big East schedule with national elite distinction, heightened expectations

first_imgWhen Gary Gait arrived at Syracuse to coach the women’s lacrosse team, he was expected to do the same thing he had done at every other stop along the way. Win.Gait led the Orange to three national championships as an All-American attack at Syracuse, won three Major League Lacrosse and National Lacrosse League championships and guided the Maryland women’s team to seven national championships as an assistant coach.On Monday, SU took a major step toward fulfilling Gait’s goal to win a national championship, moving to No. 2 in both the IWLCA Coaches Poll and the deBeer Women’s Media Poll – the highest national ranking in program history.‘To date we don’t have a women’s NCAA champion that’s been on campus,’ the Syracuse head coach said, ‘and we’re looking to take care of business and make sure Syracuse women’s athletics take it to the next level.’Syracuse (4-2) begins Big East play Saturday at 1 p.m. against Connecticut (6-1) in Storrs, Conn., with a target on its back that comes along with being the highest-ranked team in the conference.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe Orange’s spot in the rankings is a far cry from where it was a year ago. Last season, SU was just 2-5 and without a victory over a ranked team when Big East play opened.Now, Syracuse sits behind only defending national champion Northwestern in both national polls after knocking off three ranked teams in the season’s first two months. The early success gives the Orange a newfound swagger heading into conference play.‘The level of confidence is up,’ Gait said. ‘They’ve been able to win some of those close games against the best teams in the country, and it’s elevated our status and our level of confidence.’Still, SU doesn’t treat each specific game any differently knowing that every team will bring its best when it takes on Syracuse.Michelle Tumolo has been on both sides of success for the Orange. Last season, the SU attack played for a team without any expectations in the conference thanks to a slow start. Even with Syracuse’s early season successes, the junior says the team doesn’t treat games any differently.‘We know that we have a target on our back,’ Tumolo said. ‘Each game, no matter if its conference or out of conference, each game’s so important no matter if they’re ranked or unranked.’To do that, the Orange just keeps taking things one game at a time. Gait said one of the major reasons SU struggled early last season was that the team was focused too much on the big picture of the season as a whole.‘We need to stay grounded, focused and continue our clich of one game at a time,’ Gait said, ‘and I think that’s been one of the keys to our success so far.’That mentality has even rubbed off on Alyssa Costantino, who didn’t experience last year’s struggles firsthand.The SU goalkeeper was around last season when the team struggled out of the gate, but she was buried behind All-American Liz Hogan on the depth chart and was only able to watch as Syracuse struggled. In her first season of significant playing time, the only feeling the sophomore knows is that of a frontrunner because she has focused on one game at a time. The confidence that comes along with that feeling has helped to fuel her success on the field.‘It’s actually a great feeling going into Big East with so many wins,’ Costantino said. ‘You’re feeling more confident going in, and you’re kind of just like on top of the world.’The Huskies are the first team with an opportunity to knock the Orange from that No. 2 ranking, but Gait hopes they won’t be the last.With that ranking, SU will be facing the best efforts of every team it faces. And Gait hopes that only motivates his team the rest of the way.‘We talk about what great teams do, what championship caliber teams do and once you’re at this level you want even more every game, and that’s what’s going to drive you,’ Gait said. ‘Against these lower ranked opponents it’s more proving to yourself that you’re better than you were the day before, so that’s what we focus on, and hopefully that’s what will drive us through the next few games.’[email protected] Published on March 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact David: [email protected] | @DBWilson2 Commentscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more