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Women’s Lacrosse: Irish to take on powerhouse Northwestern squad

Cory Bernard | Wednesday, April 24, 2013

No. 10 Notre Dame hosts No. 4 Northwestern tonight at Arlotta Stadium in a matchup of two top-10 teams looking to rebound from recent losses.

Notre Dame (11-3, 5-3 Big East) fell 11-8 to No. 5 Syracuse on Friday and lost 10-7 against then-No. 19 Connecticut on Sunday. The Wildcats (13-2, 4-1 American Lacrosse Conference) dropped a 22-4 decision to then-No. 3 Florida on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla. 

Irish coach Christine Halfpenny said the lopsided loss is not indicative of the Northwestern team Notre Dame will face today.

“I look at their entire body of work over the course of the season when I’m scouting an opponent,” she said. “You look at that loss [Northwestern] just suffered at the hands of an incredible Florida team, it’s always an interesting thing with 18-22 year olds. We certainly saw that Florida played [its] best game of the year because we’ve had an opportunity to scout that film and it was a very off day for Northwestern. Every team seems to have one of those days every once in a while.”

Northwestern holds a 13-2 lead in the regional rivalry and will be looking for its 14th straight victory over the Irish. Notre Dame last beat the Wildcats in 2003, and most recently fell to Northwestern in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament.

Although “Fall Ball” games do not affect regular season records, the Irish did defeat the Wildcats twice in exhibitions last September. Senior goalkeeper Ellie Hilling said the two exhibition victories, in addition to Northwestern’s most recent loss, give Notre Dame confidence heading into today’s matchup.

“We played them twice and beat them in fall ball and even though that doesn’t really count, it gave us some confidence in our team knowing that [the Wildcats] are beatable,” she said. “They also did just get crushed by Florida. So knowing they are beatable, it’s our stadium, we’re playing under the lights-I think everyone’s going to be pretty excited, and it would just be awesome [to win].”

When the two teams met in September, both were missing key contributors and neither played complicated defensive or offensive schemes. Despite the unstructured format, Halfpenny said the Irish emerged from their matchups with Northwestern in September with the knowledge that they matched up well with the Wildcats.

“While [the exhibitions] might seem a little bit like street ball, roll the ball out and see what happens, I think that our team definitely walked away [from them] with some major confidence,” Halfpenny said. “We know that athletically we stacked up really nicely against them, that mentally we felt like we could handle their pressure and their game. Even though a lot has changed since September, I definitely think that gives our team the belief that we’re on common ground with them.”

In its last two games, Notre Dame trailed by multiple goals early in the first half. According to Hilling, the Irish want to begin each game well, but they don’t worry about early deficits.

“The whole year we’ve kind of been a second-half team, and I think in a majority of our games we’ve been down in the first half or the first couple minutes or first part of the half, so it is important for us to start out strong,” Hilling said. “It’s also kind of nice to know we do well in the second half, just knowing if we’re down a couple goals no one’s panicking because we’re used to coming back.”

Halfpenny said the Irish have been trying to start games well for several weeks but noted that she felt their intensity was lacking in the losses to the Orange (12-3, 6-0) and the Huskies (13-2, 5-1) last weekend. She said Notre Dame would be more motivated to play a complete game against Northwestern.

“We’ve been focused on [beginning the game well] for the second half of the season,” Halfpenny said. “That will to win and that extra fire in the belly was definitely missing over the course of last weekend. We are going to put a great emphasis on getting out to a fast start.”

The Irish and Wildcats face off at 7 p.m. tonight at Arlotta Stadium.

Contact Cory Bernard at cbernard@nd.edu