Flames field hockey falls in tight contest with No. 11 Syracuse in NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, 2-1

A 17-3 regular season record and an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament set the stage for the No. 7 Liberty field hockey team’s third consecutive NCAA Sweet 16 appearance, where it was slated to meet the No. 11 Syracuse Orange in Durham, North Carolina. 

The team squared off with the Orange Nov. 10 and, after gaining the early edge on Syracuse, fell behind and suffered a harrowing defeat on postseason turf. 

The ever-important game got off to a sputtering start, with neither team finding the back of the net through the first three quarters of play. A large part of the blank scoreboard was due to Liberty’s astute defense, filled with veteran players that allowed a mere 12 goals to be scored by opponents throughout the regular season. 

In the 47th minute, Liberty struck gold as senior defender Jodie Conolly capitalized on a penalty corner and sent a shot to the left side of the cage to give her Flames the upper hand. 

As time quickly began to dissipate, the Orange got desperate, pulling their goalkeeper in the 56th minute to gain the extra player. The shift resulted in sloppy play from the Flames, as Liberty earned a yellow card and gifted the Orange with a corner opportunity. 

Syracuse midfielder Lieke Leeggangers managed to redirect the initial shot, finding a way to put one past Flames senior goalkeeper Azul Iritxity Irigoyen and even the score. 

The Flames entered their sixth overtime contest of the season — the most overtime games in a single season in school history. 

As the overtime session commenced, the Orange held a 7-on-6 advantage due to Liberty’s yellow card penalty. With both the momentum and man advantage in their favor, Syracuse midfielder Charlotte de Vries sent the potential game-winning shot to the left side. 

While Iritxity Irigoyen extended her stick in a diving save attempt, the reliable goalkeeper  couldn’t prevent the ball from finding the back of the net. The Orange jumped and roared in excitement, and the Flames hung their heads, embracing one another in realization that their season had come to an end. 

Syracuse left the turf holding the advantage in total shots on goal, 8-3, and an 8-4 edge in penalty corners. This marked the second consecutive season that Liberty fell in the Sweet 16, having lost to No. 2 Maryland in double overtime in 2022. 

With the culmination of the 2023-24 season also comes the end of numerous storied Liberty careers. Iritxity Irigoyen leaves the Liberty net as the winningest goalkeeper in program history and the program’s career shutouts leader. Graduate defender Bethany Dykema ends her time as a Flame holding the program’s all-time career number of assists with 47. 

Syracuse went to fall in the following round to the Duke Blue Devils, ending its season with a 2-1 defeat. 

Cory is the sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X

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