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ND Women’s Lacrosse

No. 13 Irish square off with No. 4 Northwestern

| Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The No. 13 Irish travel to Lake Barrington, Ill., on Wednesday to challenge No. 4 Northwestern.

Although Northwestern has won 14 of the 16 previous contests, Irish coach Christine Halfpenny said she considers the matchup between the two schools to be a definitive rivalry.

“Our programs started at the same time, and that’s when the rivalry started,” Halfpenny said. “Since I got here, we’ve been chipping away at the Wildcats … and we’re getting closer.”

Sophomore attack Kiera McMullan tries to power past a Michigan defender during Notre Dame’s 19-7 exhibition victory over the Wolverines on Feb. 8 at the Loftus Sports Center.Zachary Llorens | The Observer

Sophomore attack Kiera McMullan tries to power past a Michigan defender during Notre Dame’s 19-7 exhibition victory over the Wolverines on Feb. 8 at the Loftus Sports Center.

The Irish (3-2) look to protect their winning record, while the Wildcats (3-0) hope to continue an unbeaten start to the season.

Both teams enter Wednesday coming off victories, as Notre Dame topped ACC foe Virginia Tech, 18-9, on Sunday, and Northwestern downed Marquette, 20-5, on Feb. 25.

The Irish offense is averaging 14 goals per game, one less than the Wildcats’ 15.  Both teams have playing styles built around speed and focus on athleticism during recruiting, Halfpenny said.

Additionally, both teams were represented on the watch list for the Tewaaraton Award, which is given to the nation’s best collegiate lacrosse player. Irish junior defender Barbara Sullivan, who leads the team in draw controls, represents Notre Dame on the list.

For the Wildcats, senior attacker Alyssa Leonard and junior goalkeeper Bridget Bianco made the list. Leonard has notched five goals this season, second only to sophomore midfielder Kaleigh Craig, who has six.

Against Northwestern, Halfpenny said the Irish hope to increase their shooting percentage, a tough task with Bianco guarding the net.

“Right now, we own a 47.9 shooting percentage and our goal is to be more of a 60 percent shooting team,” Halfpenny said. “We’re telling [the attack and midfield] to see the cage and that, to beat [Bianco], they have to move the ball and have pace on their shots.”

Freshman attacker/midfielder Cortney Fortunato leads the Irish offense with 14 goals, while junior midfielder Caitlin Gargan leads the team with six assists. Fortunato, Gargan and the entire Irish offense will have to face a very aggressive Wildcats defense Wednesday, Halfpenny said.

“When you get ready for Northwestern, you have to get ready for their defense,” she said. “You have to prepare for a ridiculously — and that’s a compliment — aggressive defense.”

The Wildcats have played three games this season, compared to Notre Dame’s five. Halfpenny said she wishes for more consistency and standardization in scheduling.

“There’s no set boundary for the start of season within our sport,” Halfpenny said. “Is that something I’d like to see? I’m not going to lie, with the Midwestern weather and competitive advantages and disadvantages, I’d like to see that happen.”

That same Midwestern weather pushed Wednesday’s game indoors. The match was originally scheduled for Northwestern’s outdoor field, but inclement weather forced the game to the Lake Barrington Field House.

“We’re excited to be inside,” Halfpenny said. “The polar vortex is getting the best of everybody, and it is what it is.”

The Northwestern-Notre Dame rivalry heats up Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. in Lake Barrington, Ill.

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About Christina Kochanski

Christina is a member of the University of Notre Dame's Class of 2017. She plans to graduate with a degree in finance. She writes for the Sports section of the Observer and enjoys playing soccer.

Contact Christina