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Women’s Lacrosse: Tough tasks await Irish during break

Chris Khorey | Friday, March 10, 2006

Notre Dame is on a roll. With a dominating 20-4 win over Lehigh Wednesday, the No. 14 Irish take a spotless 5-0 record into a crucial matchup against No. 19 James Madison Sunday at noon at the Loftus Center.The game will be a matchup of two unbeaten programs, as the Dukes enter with a 3-0 record on the season.Notre Dame’s victory over Lehigh was the latest in a series of strong performances for the Irish, who continue to play at a level far surpassing the team’s play last season, when it finished 3-12.The biggest difference in the Irish this year might be the addition of Jill Byers, a versatile freshman who plays both midfield and attack, to the threat of senior attack Crysti Foote. Byers has 20 goals and 10 assists, including a freshman record nine-point (five-goal, four-assist) performance against the Mountain Hawks Wednesday. Foote had seven points (three goals, four assists) Wednesday to climb to 24 goals and 14 assists on the season.The strong performances and jump in the polls have left the team much more confident than it was a year ago.”JMU will be a tough team, and they have good coaching on the defensive end, but I don’t think its anything we can’t handle,” Byers said. “[Our] record is a great accomplishment, but it is a lot more important to keep on winning.” Both teams are coming off disappointing seasons, with the Irish reeling from their dreary 3-12 2005 campaign and the Dukes coming off a mediocre 7-9 mark last season. With two acclaimed freshman classes for Notre Dame and JMU, No. 1 and No. 10 respectively according to Inside Lacrosse Magazine’s recruiting rankings, the teams both feature young players injecting new life into their programs.The Dukes have a returning star player analogous to Foote in the form of junior midfielder Kelly Berger. Berger led James Madison in goals (41) and assists (16) last season for a total of 57 points.After Sunday’s matchup, the Irish will face Loyola-Md. March 16 in Wellington, Fla. and Northwestern in Evanston, Ill. March 19. Northwestern is the defending NCAA champion and will serve as a barometer of the Irish turnaround. “I’m excited to play Northwestern because we are definitely rivals,” Foote said. “It’s always a challenge. Our team is ready for the competition. If we play our game we can definitely come away victorious.”