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Women’s Lacrosse: After torrid start, Irish stumble down the stretch

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Notre Dame had an up-and-down season, and it came largely in that order. 

After opening the season with the best start (10-0) in program history, the Irish (12-5, 5-3 Big East) lost five of their last seven games, missed the Big East tournament and fell in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Notre Dame lost several key players from last year’s squad and Irish coach Christine Halfpenny brought back a team filled with youth and inexperience for the 2013 season. With that in mind, Halfpenny put an increased emphasis on getting back to the basics, which allowed the team to explode out of the gates.

“Starting out the year we had a lot more preseason than usual, and we really worked hard on our fundamentals,” Halfpenny said. “We built off what we did last year, and each class matured during that preseason and during that run. That’s what allowed us to start 10-0.”

That run started with a key win in the season opener at Stanford and was highlighted by big home victories over No. 13 Ohio State and No. 19 Rutgers. The 10-game streak tied Notre Dame’s best ever start to the season and put the Irish in front of a very competitive Big East title race.

The schedule’s difficulty steadily increased as the season came to a close though, and game after game against top competition took its toll on the Irish. Notre Dame’s first loss of the season came in a 14-13, double-overtime heartbreaker against No. 17 Loyola, and the Irish went on to lose three of their next four games – all against top-20 competition.

Halfpenny said the competition may have exposed her team’s inexperience, something that may have made the difference in those tight games.

“We had seven or eight freshmen and sophomores on the field at times this year,” Halfpenny said. “Heading into those heavyweight showdowns, I think our youth caught hold of us a little bit.”

Notre Dame closed out its regular season with a win over Marquette to bring its conference record to 5-3, but that mark wasn’t enough to put the Irish in the Big East’s top four teams and qualify for the Big East tournament.

However, the Irish were still selected to be part of the 26-team NCAA tournament field, the only team not to play in its conference tournament to do so. Notre Dame faced a rematch with Stanford in the first round, but came up just short the second time around, as the Cardinal scored a free-position goal with four seconds remaining to steal an 8-7 win.

The loss ended Notre Dame’s season and was its fifth defeat in seven games. But while the team was discouraged by the losing streak, Halfpenny said the Irish learned valuable lessons from both victory and defeat.

“As much as you want to learn from wins, I thought we really learned from our losses this year,” she said. “It’s proven to make us stronger.”

Halfpenny said her team also learned from its graduating seniors, who set a strong example for the young squad both on and off the field.

“Our seniors have all been such assets to our team, and have been great at developing our more youthful players and helping us get to this point. We couldn’t ask for more out of our senior leadership.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu