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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Wins at Virginia highlight ‘roller coaster’ year

| Friday, May 15, 2015

This year was a season of firsts for No. 17 Notre Dame en route to an 11-9 overall record and 3-4 finish in ACC play.

Irish sophomore attack Cortney Fortunato is pressured while passing during a 10-8 loss to Louisville at Arlotta Stadium on April 19.Amy Ackermann | The Observer

Irish sophomore attack Cortney Fortunato is pressured while passing during a 10-8 loss to Louisville at Arlotta Stadium on April 19.

Notre Dame upset No. 8 Virginia twice, both times on enemy turf. The program’s first ever win over the Cavaliers (11-6, 4-3 ACC) on April 4 kicked off a three-game win streak during which the Irish also took down No. 3 Syracuse in overtime before suffering a narrow, 10-9 loss to No. 9 Northwestern.

“This group came out and said, ‘We want to be part of something new here; we want to do things for the first time,’ and they did,” Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “Beating Virginia for the first time ever in the history of the program, and not only beating them but beating them away on their home field, added an exclamation point to it.”

The second win over Virginia came in the first round of the ACC tournament. The Irish advanced to play No. 2 North Carolina, the conference’s top seed, and lost, 18-4. Earlier in the season, the Tar Heels escaped an Irish upset with a 9-8 win at Arlotta Stadium.

The 19-day span in which the Irish defeated Virginia twice and Syracuse once marked the first time Notre Dame beat three top-10 teams in a single season.

The Irish faced a challenging schedule, taking on four other top-10 teams on the road in the first half of the season. All were losses, as they fell 12-10 to No. 10 Stanford, 17-3 to No. 6 Duke, 15-6 to No. 6 Boston College and 9-5 to No. 4 Stony Brook.

“You have to look at the entire picture and say we play one of the hardest schedules in the country,” Halfpenny said. “We weren’t just coming up against teams that were rollovers. Every single time out we were tested, both in conference and out of conference, especially down the stretch.”

Halfpenny said while the team struggled in the losses, specifically the lopsided defeat at Duke on March 1, she was proud of how it responded.

“It’s a roller coaster ride, those are just the ups and downs of sports,” Halfpenny said. “Every dog has their day, and unfortunately we had one down in Durham. … The beauty is, we didn’t dwell in misery. We basically got right back up, responded and went on that late run where we almost knocked off the No. 2 team in the country, North Carolina. That was a close defeat, but it was a win for our program.”

Halfpenny said the team really developed and came together with time, especially with underclassmen playing such a large role on the field.

“We’re still identifying exactly where our strengths are going to be, and we’re relying on a lot of sophomores,” Halfpenny said. “We’re led by an incredible group of seniors, three of them are on the field for us. … You just saw the natural progression of a team that is growing and learning who they are and battling throughout the course of the season.”

The Notre Dame offense was led by sophomore attack Cortney Fortunato, who ranks 15th in the NCAA in goals scored with 52, earning her a spot on the All-ACC second team.

On defense, meanwhile, senior captain Barbara Sullivan dominated with 73 draw controls and 34 caused turnovers, putting her in the top 25 of the NCAA for both categories.

Sullivan, who was sidelined for almost all of 2014 with a back injury, won ACC Defensive Player of the Year and was also named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the nation’s best collegiate men’s and women’s lacrosse players.

Notre Dame traveled to Evanston, Illinois, for the NCAA tournament, where it met up with Ohio State in the first round May 8. Behind a seven-goal run, the Irish defeated the Buckeyes, 13-10, to set up a rematch with host Northwestern (14-6) on Sunday. The Wildcat offense came to life in the second half, scoring nine goals and turning a 7-7 tie at halftime into a 16-11 victory that ended Notre Dame’s season.

Before the NCAA tournament began though, Halfpenny praised her team’s overall performance this year.

“Watching our team come together, watching our leaders step up, watching our younger kids grow up and give us incredible contributions … it’s been an awesome journey,” she said.

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About Renee Griffin

Notre Dame senior, formerly of Farley Hall. Originally from Lake Zurich, IL, majoring in American Studies with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. Enjoys talkin' about practice.

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