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Emily Hawryschuk ran from the left side of the 8-meter with a North Carolina defender on her tail, and she fired a desperation shot as Syracuse trailed by two goals with three minutes left. Her shot was low and sailed wide right, but Jalyn Jimerson picked it up after it went out of bounds and quickly played it to Maddy Baxter as the shot clock wound down.
Baxter threw it to sophomore Natalie Smith, who had to extend her stick to grab it. Thirteen seconds remained for Syracuse to get a shot off on the possession, and Smith realized that. With UNC’s Julia Dorsey in her face, Smith dodged to the right and accelerated past her from about 20 yards out.
Before Gabi Hall could close out to her, Smith took a powerful shot that went past Tar Heels goalie Taylor Moreno. On that goal, Smith earned her first career hat trick and also kept Syracuse’s hopes of winning alive as UNC’s lead was cut to one goal at 13-12.
Smith, who had only scored three goals on the season, was forced to step up in Syracuse’s most important game of the season so far, with All-American midfielder Emma Tyrrell out for the rest of the season with a leg injury. Although Syracuse (10-3, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) fell 14-12 to UNC (13-0, 6-0 ACC), Smith showed promise in helping fill in for Tyrrell’s injury in her first career start.
“Natalie Smith proved she’s one of the top midfielders in the country,” head coach Kayla Treanor said.
Playing against the top-ranked team in the country with a chance at first place in the ACC definitely pressured Smith at times, and it showed early on. She stayed relatively quiet early in the first quarter, but was able to snag a ground ball after Moreno sent a pass to Elizabeth Hillman that went too far. After snagging the ball, Smith streaked down the right wing before setting up Meaghan Tyrrell for a shot at the top of the 8-meter arc.
With two minutes remaining in the quarter, Smith’s inexperience showed. In an isolation play at the top left of the 12-meter arc, Smith attempted to get by Dorsey, but Dorsey checked her and threw her off balance. Instead of passing the ball off, Smith aggressively shot the ball as she slid to the ground, but it went wide right. But her missed shot resulted in a Meaghan isolation situation and goal to even the game at 3-3.
Shortly after, Smith found herself in another isolation play in the exact same spot, except this time she had Nicole Humphrey guarding her. Smith attacked Dorsey’s right side and smoothly got by her, getting close to the crease, but her shot was low and off target.
After a slow outing in the first quarter, Smith found her stride and notched her first goal of the game in the second quarter. With Syracuse down 5-4, Hawryschuk drew Smith’s defender off of her. Recognizing that, she tossed it out to Smith, and even though Olivia Dirks stepped up to her, Smith juked right and sped past her, scoring her first goal on the day and fourth of the season to tie the game at 5.
“It was definitely tough missing the first two (shots),” Smith said. “Each time I came off the timeline, all three coaches were so supportive, saying ‘keep shooting’ and ‘you got this.’ I knew I could get it.”
Smith’s second goal came with a minute remaining in the half and gave Syracuse a 7-6 advantage. From about 30 yards out and with her and her defender on an island, Smith hopped up with one leg and charged straight to the goal. With no defenders coming in to close out on her, she fired a shot and it sunk into the back of the net. She threw down her stick and pumped her fists, and then hugged Meaghan in excitement.
From the bench, Emma, who Smith was stepping up in place for, was also pumping her fists and cheering to see Smith score.
“Everything felt so good,” Smith said of her performance. “I just wanted to keep going”
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