Women’s Lacrosse Capsules
Observer Sports Writers | Thursday, February 14, 2013
Junior midfielder and co-captain Margaret Smith returns from a strong 2012 campaign, during which she compiled 47 draw controls, 37 ground balls and 31 caused turnovers. She also helped the Irish on the offensive end, scoring 12 goals on the season. As a unanimous preseason all-Big East selection, the Irish will count on Smith to contribute at both ends of the field. Her communication and leadership will also help determine the success of a young Notre Dame midfield unit.
Junior attack Lindsay Powell led the Irish in scoring with 44 goals in 16 games last season. But Powell suffered a season-ending torn ACL, her second torn ACL in her college career, shortly before Notre Dame’s Big East semifinal game against Loyola. If Powell can return to last season’s form, she will be a main catalyst for the Irish offense. But, if her recovery from her second ACL injury is not as smooth as her first, Notre Dame might have difficulty generating goals.
10.56. That’s the average number of goals per game allowed by Notre Dame last season. The Irish ranked 34th nationally in scoring defense and were tied with Boston College for the highest average of goals per game allowed among teams that finished in the top 20 of RPI last season. The Irish have proven they have the offensive firepower to win games, but they’ll need strong defensive efforts to defeat their elite competition.
Although Notre Dame has successfully transitioned between head coaches, the team will look to adapt to two new assistant coaches, former Irish All-American Jill Byers and former Irish men’s lacrosse standout Jake Marmul. As Notre Dame’s career leader in goals, Byers will bring valuable expertise to the team’s offense, while Marmul will look to apply the lessons he learned playing under Irish men’s defensive coordinator Gerry Byrne to bolster the defense.
“It’s nice to know that I have 21 girls on the team that know me this year,” Irish coach Christine Halfpenny said. “Ten new faces, but 21 that really know me after last year getting a little bit more comfortable in our system.”
Halfpenny’s quote summarizes the depth and experience of this year’s Irish team. Some of the team’s main veterans include senior attacks Jenny Granger and Jaimie Morrison, senior goalkeeper Ellie Hilling and senior defense Emily Conner.
“Once again, our sights are set on making it all the way to [Philadelphia] come Memorial Day weekend,” Halfpenny said. The second-year coach has high expectations for her squad, but her goal of reaching the Final Four is attainable for this Irish team. The squad returns eight of 12 starters from last season and has considerable depth on offense, where it excelled last season. The Irish lost some key contributors on defense but will look to replace them with some highly acclaimed underclassmen and freshmen.
Notre Dame struggles against a schedule filled with several of the top teams in the country. The Irish are slated to play five teams ranked in the preseason DeBeer Media Poll – No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Northwestern, No. 7 Loyola (Md.), No. 14 Georgetown and No. 20 Ohio State, in addition to a tough slate of Big East games. Notre Dame went 2-5 against the aforementioned five teams last season and will likely need to get by Syracuse and Loyola to capture the conference crown.
Notre Dame got off to a blistering start in Halfpenny’s first season, winning its first eight games. The Irish finished the regular season with a 13-3 record before losing in the Big East semifinals and in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Under Halfpenny’s new offensive sets, the team’s scoring average climbed from 12 goals per game in 2011 to nearly 14 goals per game last season.
Game to Watch
Northwestern has been the model program in women’s lacrosse for the last decade, as the Wildcats have claimed seven of the last eight NCAA championships. The Wildcats defeated Notre Dame twice last year, but the Irish hung with them for much of the second game, a 12-7 loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This season, the two teams will meet in Arlotta Stadium on April 24, and an Irish win could do wonders for the national perception of the program.