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ND Women’s Lacrosse

‘Ecstatic’ Irish await new challenges

| Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Notre Dame is loaded with talented freshmen, savvy veterans and high hopes this season that come along with being ranked No. 11 in the country.

After a strong offseason, Irish coach Christine Halfpenny is excited for the potential of her team.

“We look really deep,” Halfpenny said. “We’re very excited about the added athleticism that we have welcoming our 10 freshmen to the field and to Notre Dame lacrosse. We feel we kind of upped the ante there with the depth of our speed at every position, as well as upped our talent level by bringing in a very strong recruiting class.”

Irish senior defender Molly Shawhan sprints past a Georgetown defender in Notre Dame’s 13-12 victory over the Hoyas last season on April 14. Shawhan was recently named a co-captain for the upcoming season.Sam Gans | The Observer

Irish senior defender Molly Shawhan sprints past a Georgetown defender in Notre Dame’s 13-12 victory over the Hoyas last season on April 14. Shawhan was recently named a co-captain for the upcoming season.

Part of the excitement around this team certainly comes from its preseason ranking. The Irish are ranked No. 11 by both the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association and Inside Lacrosse.

“Preseason rankings are nice because it means we’re getting a lot of respect from our peers,” Halfpenny said. “But at the end of the day, I’m much more excited to see that final NCAA ranking. It’s nice to be noticed and represented amongst the best, but I’m excited to see us actually prove where we belong as the season progresses.”

As with nearly all Notre Dame sports, this year will be the team’s first season in the ACC. The ACC is a lacrosse powerhouse, boasting the top-ranked defending national champion North Carolina, as well as 13 of the last 23 national championships. Five of the top eight squads in the IWLCA poll are ACC schools, including the top three ranked teams.

Halfpenny said she is excited about the move and welcomes the improved competition.

“We’re thrilled; we’re ecstatic,” Halfpenny said. “To have the opportunity to play in the best lacrosse conference in the country is something that only eight teams have the opportunity to do. It guarantees year in and year out the best RPI in the country, which will help us in the postseason. Ultimately, it should really help us in taking that next step of winning our conference games and advancing back to the Final Four for the first time since 2006.”

The move to the ACC does leave the Irish with an incredibly challenging schedule, something Halfpenny described as “the elephant in the room.” The team plays nine teams — six in the ACC — ranked in the top 20 and six top-10 teams, highlighted by a pivotal early-season showdown at the top-ranked Tar Heels on Feb. 27.

Irish senior attack Lindsay Powell looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 13-12 win over Georgetown last season on April 14.Sam Gans | The Observer

Irish senior attack Lindsay Powell looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 13-12 win over Georgetown last season on April 14.

Halfpenny said she will rely on the experience of her veterans and energy of her freshmen to get through a daunting regular season.

“I think we just have to manage it one game at a time,” Halfpenny said. “We have a really great variety of older players down to younger players. Our veterans that come back have incredible game experience, and they’re really hungry.

“I’m marrying the ability to take those freshmen, coming off all their high school state championships, and our veterans, who are hungry for the NCAA tournament. It allows us to head into an incredibly rigorous schedule focused, to take it one game at a time and to not allow ourselves to get too high or too low as the season goes.”

The Irish named four players captains for the 2014 season: seniors midfielder Julia Giorgio, defender Molly Shawhan and midfielder Margaret Smith and junior defender Barbara Sullivan. Halfpenny praised them for their leadership ability, on-field play and personal integrity.

“It’s a really fun group of individuals we’ve put together,” Halfpenny said. “Ultimately, they really reflect the values that Notre Dame stands for, and they have done an incredible amount of work with their interpersonal relationships. When you put them all together, we feel we really have one core unit. Enough cannot be said about the will to win those four bring to the table, along with their integrity and how they reflect our values.”

Notre Dame has qualified for the NCAA tournament six of the last seven years, but Halfpenny said they are leaving everything from years past behind and are starting anew.

“Quite honestly, we’re not trying to compare ourselves to anybody, including not comparing our season to another one,” Halfpenny said. “We’re excited about a new beginning, so our focus is more set on what are we going to do this season and what are we going to do in our brand new conference, the ACC. Our whole theme is kind of ‘the journey begins now, a new era of lacrosse.’”

The Irish hit the field Saturday at 7:45 p.m. for a home exhibition game against Michigan.

Contact Alex Wilcox at awilcox1@nd.edu

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