The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Women’s Lacrosse: Halfpenny welcomes familiarity of year two

Cory Bernard | Thursday, February 14, 2013


Last spring, first-year coach Chris Halfpenny led the Irish to the NCAA tournament following a two-year drought. Now in her second season, Halfpenny doesn’t need to focus on adjusting to a new school or a new roster. Instead, No. 9 Notre Dame can focus on returning to the tournament and challenging for a national championship.

“I think that every year has its own challenges, quite honestly,” Halfpenny said. “Some things are smoother just because after a year here you start to get to understand the way things are done at Notre Dame. It’s easier to understand their class schedules, academic timing of testing and things like that that you really do have to build it for mentality reasons.”

It did not take Halfpenny long to adjust to the academic expectations placed upon Notre Dame student-athletes. In 2012, the team maintained a cumulative GPA above 3.0 and was named an Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Academic Squad. Halfpenny attributed her understanding of Notre Dame’s academic demands to her previous coaching stops. She began her coaching career in 2001 as an assistant at Brown. From 2004 to 2006 she was the top assistant coach for Duke. And in her five seasons as the head coach of William and Mary, her players earned a combined 59 Colonial Athletic Association Commissioner’s Academic Awards.

“I’ve had such similar stops with the academic-athletic parallel,” she said. “Obviously drawing off my time at Duke but also just dealing with this style student athlete at the Brown and William and Mary and Duke stops. Nothing much there [was different academically.]”

Though she understood the classroom lives of her players, Halfpenny said she had to learn more about the competition in an entirely new conference. Halfpenny had rarely coached against most of Notre Dame’s Big East foes, she said.

“I would certainly say the Big East is the biggest difference [coming to Notre Dame],” she said. “Heading into this season it’s nice to know I’m better. I didn’t play that many teams in the Big East before I came here so it had been years since I had seen some of them.”

Halfpenny said she also feels more familiar with the rest of Notre Dame’s opponents this season. The Irish will host four ranked teams this year, including defending NCAA Champion and top-ranked Northwestern on April 24. The Irish will also travel to Syracuse to face the NCAA runner-up and No. 2 Orange.

“Coming right out of the gate we have Stanford,” Halfpenny said. “We played them last year. Now I haven’t seen them in a year, because we played them early and I hadn’t had the opportunity to see them down the stretch at all. But now at least there’s comfort because last year it felt like we were going, as a staff, again it was an opener so you didn’t have that much film on them and you didn’t know their tendencies. But I certainly feel a little bit more comfort with our opponents this year.”

The coaches aren’t the only ones feeling more comfortable in 2013. The players have had a year’s worth of integration into Halfpenny’s system and terminology, and the coach said her team can communicate more easily this season.

“There’s certainly a little bit of comfort for the upperclassmen,” she said. “The upperclassmen are truly upperclassmen this year. The younger kids can ask an older kid what to expect the first day of preseason and what to expect in week two and ‘when she says this, what does that mean?’ Or where we say, ‘Hey we’re going to be tapering. What does a taper mean?’ when we’re heading into a game week, whereas last year they’d be like, ‘Taper? What does that mean?’ 

“They understand that this year. So I think it’s certainly been more comfortable,” Halfpenny said,

After bowing out in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament, Halfpenny said the Irish are more focused than ever at achieving success.

“We gave Northwestern all they could handle the first 52 minutes of that first-round NCAA game on their field and came up just short with unforced errors,” she said. 

“We really set our sights on being the best we can be each day taking it one day at a time, taking it one game at a time and being not just good and great but Notre Dame good, Notre Dame great. What is that? That’s championships. That’s competing for championships.”

The Irish begin their search for a title at 6 p.m. Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif., against Stanford.

Contact Cory Bernard at cbernard@nd.edu