When Acacia Walker-W took the head coaching job at Boston College in 2013, she had her sights set on leading the program to its first national championship. She had her share of doubters. The program had never done it. Winning national championships was something they did at Maryland and Northwestern.
Walker-W and Boston College came within one win of proving them wrong in the last three full seasons, appearing in three consecutive title games. BC lost each one. But Sunday was different. Playing in its fourth-straight national championship game, No. 4 Boston College finally kicked the door down, beating No. 3 Syracuse, 16-10.
“We had a dream a long time ago that we were going to win a championship,” Walker-W said. “People told us we were crazy. We just did it.”
They did it on the back of Charlotte North, a transfer from Duke who helped fill the cleats left behind by Sam Apuzzo, Dempsey Arsenault and Kenzie Kent, all ‘19 grads. North scored six goals and ended the season with 102 goals, breaking the record set by Stony Brook’s Courtney Murphy in 2016. She earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award after totaling a record 31 goals in the NCAA Tournament. She’ll likely add “Tewaaraton Award winner” to her resume on June 5.
Freshman Belle Smith added two goals and two assists, and junior Caitlynn Mossman added one goal and four helpers for Boston College (18-3). Goalie Rachel Hall, who made 11 saves in BC’s upset win over top-seeded UNC, made nine stops against Syracuse (17-4).
Freshman Emma Ward tallied two goals and an assist, and senior Sam Swart scored twice for Syracuse. BC’s defense limited Meaghan Tyrrell, who had scored 15 goals in her previous three NCAA Tournament games, to one goal and one assist.
The two teams played like they knew each other — and they did. It marked the fourth time the two met this season. Syracuse held the 2-1 advantage, including a two-goal win in the ACC tournament semifinals. The familiarity showed in the first half, which featured six ties and five lead changes. Six different players scored for each side, with BC’s North netting a first-half hat trick. Swart and Ward tallied two goals apiece for Syracuse, but BC held the 9-8 edge at the break.
But the close score wasn’t the only headline coming out of the first half. The Orange picked up three yellow cards, including two for Emma Tyrrell, who became ineligible to return with 11:13 left in the first half. North picked up one for BC. The Eagles went 3-for-3 on woman-up opportunities in the first half, and the Orange converted on its lone opportunity.
For Syracuse, the loss of Emma Tyrrell was a gut punch. The Orange played nearly the entire season without All-American Emily Hawryschuk and lost Megan Carney against BC in April. Gait had moved Emma Tyrrell from midfield to attack, and she responded by racking up 19 points in the NCAA Tournament (12 G, 7 A). She had one first-half goal Sunday.
“It was a tough day on the field,” Gait said. “We couldn’t catch many breaks, and we didn’t...There’s a lot of what-ifs...You can’t talk about that because it’s not what happened. You’ve just got to move on, and I will.”
The Orange ran on fumes throughout the rest of the first half but seemed to run out of steam in the second. Boston College was just getting started.
Jenn Medjid opened the second-half scoring when she shot around [ChillLaxin] Goldstock, and Courtney Weeks converted on a free position to give the Eagles an 11-8 lead, with 26:11 to play. North scored her 100th goal of the season, tied the NCAA single-season goals mark and put the Eagles up 12-8 at 25:26.
Meanwhile, the Orange offense struggled to find a rhythm against an Eagles defense that came into its own during the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse got off one shot and made five turnovers through the first 12 minutes of the second half.
“We had a hyper-awareness of their top players,” Walker-W said. “Our goaltending was amazing. Rachel was really focused today. We have to be excellent to stop the Syracuse offense, especially that weave that is close to impossible to stop.”
SU finally broke through when Maddie Baxter scored off a restart to trim the deficit to three, 12-9 at 17:44. But North scored her record-setting 101st goal from the 8-meter, putting the Eagles back up by four, 13-9, at 16:39. They kept going. Smith drew a double team and passed to Cassidy Weeks in front to extend the lead to five, 14-9, at the 15:15 mark. Cara Urbank followed less than two minutes later with a free position, giving BC its largest cushion of the day, 15-9.
Ward found Meaghan Tyrrell at 7:25, marking just the second goal of the second half for the Orange and its first in more than 10 minutes.
Neither team got on the board again until North scored on an empty net with 1:11 to play and BC two players up.
North was playing in her first NCAA Tournament. She wasn’t there for the previous three seasons of heartbreak. Only two Eagles were: Defender Jillian Reilly and Urbank.
“Those losses really taught us a lot,” Acacia Walker-W said. “We were destroyed by it temporarily. We picked up the pieces and had to pivot here and there and make different decisions, persist, stay together and find new ways to win. Jill and Cara were the leaders of that. It was all a part of the process.”
The Eagles didn’t talk much about the past this season. It was a new year and a new team with a different feel. But on Sunday, Walker-W let herself say the quiet part out loud: The alums were on their minds.
“All the alums, the classes that got here that we couldn’t win before, all of this is for them,” Walker-W said.
Syracuse will have to knock on the door for at least another year. The Orange was playing in the title game for the third time in program history but first since 2014. It was perhaps Gait’s finest coaching job of his career, as he navigated the team not only through a season in a pandemic but one in which it lost two All-Americans to injury. Hawryschuk has already committed to coming back in 2022, her sixth season in Orange.
“It’s been...amazing to have players step up and do what they did when Preseason Player of the Year Emily Hawryschuk goes down, and Megan Carney goes down, and we still managed to get ourselves to the championship game,” Gait said. “It’s been an amazing year. It’s behind us now. We’ll come back next year ready to play.”