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ND Women’s Lacrosse

ND begins season against Cincinnati

| Tuesday, February 11, 2014

No. 11 Notre Dame officially begins the 2014 regular season today, when former Big East rival Cincinnati arrives at the Loftus Center for a 5 p.m. matchup.

Notre Dame junior midfielder Caitlin Gargan carries the ball for Notre Dame while she looks to score during Notre Dame's 19-7 scrimmage win over Michigan on Saturday. Gargan returns as one of the last season's top scorers, as she finished 2013 with 19 goals and five assists for the Irish. Zachary Llorens

Notre Dame junior midfielder Caitlin Gargan carries the ball for Notre Dame while she looks to score during Notre Dame’s 19-7 scrimmage win over Michigan on Saturday. Gargan returns as one of the last season’s top scorers, as she finished 2013 with 19 goals and five assists for the Irish.

After putting up a 12-5 record and falling to Stanford 8-7 in the NCAA tournament last season, the Irish are looking to improve as they enter their first year as a member of the ACC. The Irish put on a show on offense in their lone exhibition game, beating Michigan 19-7. A trio of midfielders, junior Caitlan Gargan, sophomore Stephanie Toy and freshman Cortney Fortunato, led the Irish in scoring with three goals apiece.

After the victory, Irish coach Christine Halfpenny said the exhibition showcased the Irish’s assertive offensive identity, while also exposing areas in need of improvement.

“We were really excited about how we executed our game plan, which is … a fast, passionate and aggressive style of play,” Halfpenny said. “I really want to build off the speed of the game, which is our brand … and clean up some of our hustle categories. We’re really excited to see that all come together on Wednesday.”

According to Halfpenny, although the exhibition provided valuable preparation for the season, Wednesday’s season opener will be a step up in emotion and intensity.

“There’s definitely a different feel for the girls going into the locker room … to see their shiny, home white uniforms,” Halfpenny said. “They know the season truly begins and everything counts on Wednesday at five o’clock. So, definitely a fresh, different kind of enthusiasm in the air.”

Facing high expectations in the young new season will be Notre Dame’s top returning scorers, senior attack Lauren Sullivan and Gargan, who had 26 and 19 goals last season, respectively. After three different freshman scored in the exhibition, Halfpenny said she was excited to see how they performed against Cincinnati, particularly Fortunato and midfielder Casey Pearsall, who recently recovered from an ACL tear.

“We’re really excited about a number of players in the freshman class,” Halfpenny said. “Seeing Cortney Fortunato come out and do what she does so well [Saturday] … was really, really exciting. And then seeing Casey Pearsall going back to work, after missing an entire season with an ACL tear in high school last year. She’s a tough-nosed, incredibly athletic and strong midfielder for us, so it was really exciting to see Casey take the field.”

Trying to shut down the talented Irish freshmen will be the Bearcats’ sophomore goalie Meg Gulmi, who started all 16 games as a freshman and notched 142 saves. Cincinnati went 7-9 last season, but return Gulmi and top two scorers, senior midfielder Taylor Young and junior midfielder Megan Bell. Challenging Bell and Young will be Irish junior goalie Allie Murray, who will make her first career start Wednesday. Despite her inexperience, Halfpenny said Murray has handled the transition in impressive fashion.

“I think she’s doing a really great job,” Halfpenny said. “At the end of the day, she always had the mentality of ‘I’m ready whenever you need me,’ and … she’s an incredible teammate. Her high IQ at this level … her understanding of our defense and her playing give us momentum, and I think that’s huge. She’s made a smooth transition to being our starting goaltender for [Wednesday], we’re thrilled.”

Murray and the Irish will play host to the Bearcats at 5 p.m. today at the Loftus Center.

 

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