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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Irish ready to battle UVA

| Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A week after its comeback bid fell short against No. 2 North Carolina, No. 17 Notre Dame gets another shot at knocking off a top-five opponent when it travels to Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday to square off with fourth-ranked Virginia.

The Irish (6-5, 1-3 ACC) trailed the Tar Heels (10-2, 3-1) 7-1 with 8:30 remaining in the first half when head coach Christine Halfpenny called a timeout. From there the Notre Dame comeback was on. With 5:08 left in the game, a goal by junior attack Rachel Sexton finally drew the Irish even at eight. However, Tar Heel fifth-year senior midfielder Brittany Coppa responded just over a minute later with what ended up being the deciding goal, forcing the Irish to settle for a 9-8 loss.

“I think they built a lot of confidence off that one,” Halfpenny said of the North Carolina game. “I’m not going to lie, it still feels like — waking up the next day — did that really happen? We didn’t win that one? We got so close, and we knew we were right there, and we totally felt like we were going to win, ‘We got this game.’”

Irish junior attack Rachel Sexton takes a shot against the Syracuse Orange on April 19 in an 18-10 loss at Arlotta Stadium.Jodi Lo | The Observer

Irish junior attack Rachel Sexton takes a shot against the Syracuse Orange on April 19 in an 18-10 loss
at Arlotta Stadium.

Saturday against the Cavaliers (8-4, 2-2) will mark the fourth game Notre Dame has played against an opponent currently in the top five this season. The Irish are 0-3 in those games so far, falling 17-3 on March 1 to No. 5 Duke in Durham, North Carolina; to Boston College 15-6 on March 7 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and last Saturday against the Tar Heels at Arlotta Stadium.

Halfpenny said after this loss her team emerged with a renewed sense of fight and determination.

“All 32 kids come away going, if we can [play like against North Carolina] every time out, we have the confidence now to understand that we’re positioning ourselves to continue to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament by winning these games,” Halfpenny said. “By closing these out, by making a couple more plays, that’s all we’ve got to do.

“There was some serious spirit out there. There was another level of speed that I hadn’t seen yet.”

Against the Tar Heels, the Irish not only managed to overcome a six-goal deficit, but they also won many of what Halfpenny called the “hustle stats.” Notre Dame outshot UNC 31-18 in the game, including a 14-6 edge in the second half — as well as winning the ground ball and turnover battles.

Notre Dame also rang five shots of the post over the course of the game, and opposing Tar Heel sophomore goalkeeper Caylee Waters stopped 13 Irish shots to match a career high. The Irish will face another goalkeeper coming off a strong performance in Virginia’s Rachel Vander Kolk. The freshman earned ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors yesterday in large part due to her 18-save performance in Virginia’s 15-13 upset over previously-unbeaten Boston College on Saturday. The Cavaliers were outshot 41-26 in the game, but rode Vander Kolk to victory, a talented backstop Halfpenny said the Irish are well aware of.

“[Vander Kolk] was a great goalie in high school,” Halfpenny said. “I remember recruiting her … and now she’s getting her opportunity at Virginia. … You’ve got to make this goalie move though, because she does really good holding, she’s got great hand-eye coordination, and so we’re definitely going to have to move her and get this ball around her.”

Halfpenny said this weekend will be important for the Irish to keep their postseason hopes alive because the NCAA mandates a team be over .500 before it will even be considered for the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame currently sits at 6-5, and with a schedule 16 games long, the Irish will need to win three of their remaining five games to qualify. In addition to Virginia, Notre Dame also has No. 7 Syracuse, No. 6 Northwestern and No. 10 Louisville among its final five games, meaning the Irish need to beat at least two teams ranked in the top 10 and unranked Michigan to qualify.

“Here we find ourselves now in April,” Halfpenny said. “We got our legs under us in February, we learned a lot about ourselves in March, and now it’s time to really just grab this identity we have … and find sixty minutes of that against another No. 4 team in the country.”

While the Irish are desperate for a win this weekend, there is also a chance at history in Charlottesville. Neither Halfpenny — including her time at William & Mary and Notre Dame —nor the Notre Dame program have ever beaten Virginia on the road. Don’t try to tell Halfpenny though.

“I know it’s going to sound boring, but [a win] just means we’re 7-5,” Halfpenny said. “ … We’re just focused on getting that seventh win right now.”

Notre Dame looks for its seventh win against Virginia at 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A senior History major, Zach resides in Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he has covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus.

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