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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Fortunato, sophomores fuel recent run of success

| Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In 1995, soccer pundit Alan Hansen famously proclaimed, “You can’t win anything with kids.”

With 48 goals on the season — good for sixth nationally — Irish attack Cortney Fortunato leads a sophomore class that may very well be set to denounce that theory.

The No. 11 Irish have rattled off six wins from their last seven outings — with the lone setback a 9-8 loss to No. 2 North Carolina on March 29 — and moved back up the polls after nearly sliding out after a rough first month of the season.

And Fortunato has keyed that run — she has scored 33 times over those seven games, including an eight-goal game against Virginia Tech on March 14 and a six-goal effort in a 14-4 drubbing of then-No. 4 Virginia away from home April 4.

But while she is the leading scorer, Fortunato is far from the only sophomore making an impact for Notre Dame.

Midfielder Casey Pearsall has 16 goals, 16 assists. A pair of attacks — Grace Muller and Heidi Annaheim — each have scored 17 times and reached the 20-point mark.

Irish sophomore Casey Pearsall, left, catches a pass from junior Kiera McMullan during a 17-5 win over Detroit Feb. 15.Amy Ackermann | The Observer

Irish sophomore Casey Pearsall, left, catches a pass from junior Kiera McMullan during a 17-5 win over Detroit Feb. 15.

Midfielder Alex Dalton has started all 14 games and is second on the team in ground balls (26) and third in draw controls (30) while goalkeeper Liz O’Sullivan has made 84 saves en route to a 9-5 record.

Needless to say, the group is making an impact.

Annaheim — who scored just six goals last season — said a big part of the group’s success is how tightly-knit the class is.

“We’re actually really, really close; even on and off the field, you can see it,” Annaheim said. “We work really, really well together, and we’re all over the field, from goalie all the way to attack, and you can see it on the field. Everyone who plays, who doesn’t play. We’re all so close with each other so it’s really good.”

Fortunato said the class is coming together as a unit heading into the end of the year.

“We’re really close and we have really good chemistry and that definitely helps us on the field,” she said. “… We just developed together, and we’re meshing really well right now, and it’s a great place to be going into the postseason, finishing up the regular season.”

But while they might be young in age, Notre Dame’s sophomores aren’t treated as such; Fortunato said everyone is looked at the same, regardless of their year.

“It doesn’t matter what grade you’re in. You’re expected to be playing at a certain level on the field,” Fortunato said.

Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny shared the same sentiment.

“We are class blind. I think that class coming together as sophomores, they look like juniors to me right now,” she said. “[They’re] really taking control … everybody’s adding and contributing to what we have going on right now.”

But for Notre Dame, it wasn’t all peaches and cream this year. A month ago, Notre Dame was coming off a 9-5 loss at now-No. 5 Stony Brook, their third in as many games. The offense was not firing and the defense had surrendered 41 goals in three games.

And then something changed — and Halfpenny attests it to the team’s various groups coming together.

“Collectively, I think that they just have mini-teams within a team out there,” Halfpenny said. “We talked about that out in Stony Brook after a really brutal night, to have to go back into that hotel on Long Island and know that’s not what we wanted; that wasn’t our best effort out there, and we weren’t gelling. We weren’t clicking and finding each other, and we weren’t fueling off each other. So mini-teams within a team started to kind of pull together, and you’re starting to see that feed off each other.

The team Hansen made his proclamation about? Manchester United. They won the Premier League that year.

Fortunato, Annaheim, Pearsall and the rest of Notre Dame’s sophomore class? They’ll try to prove him wrong again, 20 years later.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.”At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer.A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa.When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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