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Women’s Lacrosse: Notre Dame to face top-ranked Northwestern on road

Brian Hartnett | Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In the last week, Notre Dame has added two notable victories to its resume, defeating then-No. 18 Vanderbilt on April 18 and then-No. 12 Georgetown on Saturday.

Its reward for these wins will be a midweek visit to Evanston, Ill., to take on No. 1 Northwestern.

The Irish (12-2, 5-2 Big East) come into the contest riding a four-game winning streak, during which they have outscored their opponents 53-31. In addition to their offensive prowess, the Irish have been bolstered by a strong defensive unit, which held Georgetown to a season-low output of six goals.

Irish coach Christine Halfpenny said she believes the matchup with Northwestern (14-1, 4-1 ALC) comes at an opportune time for the Irish.

“We feel like the timing is good,” Halfpenny said. “We’re coming off two great games that built some confidence.”

Confidence will be crucial for the Irish heading into their showdown with the Wildcats, a team they have not defeated since April 26, 2003. Since then, the Wildcats have reeled off 11 consecutive wins against the Irish, including three in the NCAA tournament, and have captured six national championships.

This year’s Wildcats look to be as strong as their predecessors, as they have held the top-ranked spot the entire season. The Wildcats started the season with 14 consecutive wins, but come into the game fresh off their first defeat, an 8-7 loss to No. 3 Florida on Saturday. Halfpenny said Northwestern’s loss had no effect on her team’s preparation for the game.

“We’re not really concerned about what just happened,” Halfpenny said. “Did we have the opportunity to look at that? Yeah, sure. That’s going to have zero bearing about what’s going to happen on Wednesday night.”

More pressing concerns for the Irish include stopping Northwestern’s prolific offense, a unit averaging more than 14 goals per game. The Wildcats are led by senior attack Shannon Smith, who has 48 goals on the season and is the reigning Tewaaraton award winner, and junior midfielder/attack Erin Fitzgerald, who has totaled 37 goals and 44 points this season. Halfpenny said the Irish will look to limit the Wildcat offense, putting an emphasis on stopping Smith.

“We’re going to have to contain their offense that averages some of the most points in the country right now as well as clearly containing Shannon Smith,” Halfpenny said. “It’s not how to stop Northwestern. It’s going to be how do you contain and limit their offense.”

Notre Dame will look for a continued strong effort from its defense, particularly from its junior goalie Ellie Hilling. Hilling earned a spot on the Big East weekly honor roll on Monday after tying her career high with 16 saves against Georgetown and notching 13 saves against Vanderbilt. Senior defense Megan Sullivan also found her name on the list after totaling a combined three goals, four ground balls and three caused turnovers against Vanderbilt and Georgetown.

The Irish will also look to ignite some offensive firepower against a tough Northwestern defense allowing close to seven goals per game. The Wildcats feature senior goalie Brianne LoManto, who leads all Division I goalkeepers with a goals-against average of 6.92. Halfpenny said the offensive gameplan for the Irish will revolve around quick and constant ball movement.

“Our offense has to do a good job of moving the ball,” Halfpenny said. “They run an outstanding defense, and they’re incredibly athletic. The key to that is ball movement and attacking them in their own style.”

The Irish offense will be powered by senior attack Maggie Tamasitis, who ranks second nationally with 50 assists. Tamasitis is currently tied for the Notre Dame school record for most consecutive games with a point at 51 games, a mark she shares with 2008 alum Caitlin McKinney.

Halfpenny said Tamasitis will play a major role in the offense’s flow, but she mentioned the Irish will need contributions from more unheralded team members to defeat the Wildcats.

“Obviously, Maggie Tamasitis has been a key to our success, and we’ve continued to have the ball go through her hands as much as possible,” Halfpenny said. “When you’re playing a team as athletic as Northwestern, it’s not just your No. 1 and No. 2 kids showing up – it’s all of them. The beauty of that is that’s how we’ve been playing all year long.”

The Irish will look to pull off the upset of the top-ranked Wildcats when they face off tonight at 8 p.m.

Contact Brian Hartnett at

bhartnet@nd.edu