first_imgGary Gait had the plan in place all along. With championship ambitions, the Syracuse head coach knew there was one way to ensure the Orange would be prepared to follow through on his vision.Build a schedule featuring some of the best teams in the country.Except last year, that plan backfired.‘When I took the job here, my goal was to win a national championship,’ Gait said. ‘And my philosophy is that in order to win you’ve got to play the best.’Whereas most teams face their stiffest competition at the end of the season in Big East play, Gait frontloads his schedule with elite competition. Last year, that led to the Orange finishing just 10-8 and missing the NCAA tournament after a 1-3 start with losses to top-15 teams Maryland, Stanford and Virginia. This season won’t be any easier for No. 12 Syracuse. It opens up its campaign Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the Carrier Dome against No. 13 Boston College (1-0). To return to the NCAA tournament, the Orange needs to start out on a better note than it did a season ago, and it starts with the Eagles.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text‘We’re just focusing on one game at a time,’ attack Michelle Tumolo said. ‘So right now it’s BC, obviously, so we’re working on what they’re defense does.’And what the Eagles’ defense does is conducive to the junior’s skill set.Syracuse’s focus this season and team motto is ‘big energy.’ The Eagles take the same approach on defense, playing up-tempo and creating double teams.But for an experienced and talented passer like Tumolo, even that becomes a benefit for SU.‘That’s my favorite,’ Tumolo said. ‘I love when people double team and when they play a high-pressure defense because that means we’re moving faster and there’s going to be someone open. I hate when they sit there.’A year ago, though, that high-pressure defense may have been something to worry Syracuse.In 2011, freshmen Alyssa Murray and Katie Webster were pressed into action despite their lack of experience. After becoming two of the team’s top five scorers, the experience they gained against top competition last year will be invaluable in the early-season gauntlet ahead.Murray said rather than looking ahead to the Orange’s matchup with No. 1 Northwestern in eight days, it needs to be ready for Boston College.‘Just focus on the game instead of like the huge picture,’ Murray said. ‘We’re going to play Northwestern in a week or something, and instead of just thinking like, ‘Oh, we’re playing the defending national champion,’ it’s like we’re playing Northwestern.’And Gait feels the experience gained in the disappointing 2011 season will serve Syracuse well as it aims to get back on track this year.‘We’re young again,’ Gait said. ‘But I think we have much more experience than we have from last year, and I’m hoping that we come out and develop the chemistry early and have success from the opening game.’Confidence, though, is the most important factor to SU’s season. With so many players playing with limited experience a year ago, the Orange was a bit overwhelmed.But this year, the players know what to expect.Syracuse’s roster is dotted with veteran leadership and will rely on that experience this year. While there are still some freshmen in the rotation, most notably Kelsey Richardson, who is one of two goaltenders competing for the starting job, the rookies won’t be expected to contribute as much as they were last season.And while Richardson admits to having some nerves entering her college debut, she still has experience against elite competition.The Orange took on the England national team as a preseason tune-up. Games like that — in addition to last year’s tough schedule — will put SU in better position than a year ago.‘Last year they got a chance to see what it’s like, play the best and now they understand what they’re getting themselves into this year,’ Gait said, ‘and I think they’re going to be more prepared, more focused and expecting the best from the top teams in the country.’[email protected]  Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact David: [email protected] | @DBWilson2center_img Commentslast_img

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