The Irish will open the second half of their season and the beginning of Big East conference play this weekend with a game against Rutgers tonight and a match against No. 4 Loyola Sunday.
“This is a chance for a fresh start to the second half of the season,” Irish coach Tracy Coyne said. “I don’t want players to carry frustration from the first half of the season.”
The Irish (3-5) have dropped two consecutive thrillers, one in double-overtime to Cornell, the other in the final seconds against Hofstra. Notre Dame is now 0-3 in one-goal games and their five losses have come by a combined 11 goals.
While the recent losses have been disappointing, Coyne still finds positives in them.
“Knowing that we were up late in the game gave us some confidence,” Coyne said. “[The Hofstra game] also gave us an opportunity to work on late game situations in practice.”
Rutgers (6-3, 1-1 Big East) will march into Arlotta Stadium on the heels of an 11-7 loss to Syracuse. Senior midfielder Marlena Welsh and junior midfielder Ali Steinberg, who have combined for 37 goals and nine assists, will lead the team.
Last season, the Irish dropped a 12-11 overtime decision to the Scarlet Knights.
“We have unfinished business [with Rutgers],” Coyne said. “We need to be tactically smarter and do a great
job off the draw.”
Senior midfielder Shaylyn Blaney leads Notre Dame with 18 draw controls, including five against Hofstra. Blaney, along with senior captain defender Jackie Doherty, will help give the Irish an advantage off the draw.
Controlling the draw will be even more important during Big East play. The conference currently has three top-20 teams, including undefeated Loyola (8-0).
“It’s a very competitive conference. Even the weaker teams from last year have improved,” Coyne said. “We want to be the team we know we can be.”
The Greyhounds pose a difficult challenge for the struggling Irish. Led by reigning Big East Attack Player of the Year senior attack Grace Gavin, Loyola has outscored their eight opponents this year by an average of six goals-per-game. Gavin, the current Big East Offensive Player of the Week, leads the squad in both goals (31) and assists (9).
“We’re not intimidated by their ranking — we’ve played a tough schedule so far,” Coyne said of a schedule that has featured No. 2 Northwestern and No. 11 Stanford. “Even though we’re struggling right now, we are a very competitive team.”
Junior attack Maggie Tamasitis is second in the Big East with 18 assists and will also carry a 26-game point streak into the weekend. Sophomore midfielder Jenny Granger has scored a team-high 14 goals.
The Irish open conference play against Rutgers Friday at 7 p.m. and finish the weekend against Loyola Sunday at 1 p.m. Both games are in Arlotta Stadium.