ND Women’s Lacrosse
Notre Dame starts season with win over Jacksonville
Alex Carson | Tuesday, February 9, 2016
No. 7 Notre Dame got its season off on the right foot in the way one would expect it to, with its strong corps of upperclassmen leading the squad to an 18-5, season-opening victory at Jacksonville on Saturday.
From the start Saturday, things went according to plan for the Irish (1-0), as junior attack/midfielder Cortney Fortunato, Notre Dame’s leading scorer in each of her first two seasons, put the visitors on the board fewer than four minutes into the game.
It set the tone for a dominant Irish victory over a Dolphins (0-1) squad that posted a 17-3 record last year and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season as the Atlantic Sun champion. Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said the Irish saw some different things out of the home team in Jacksonville.
“It was awesome to get out there and to obviously play someone else other than ourselves, someone that was throwing things at us that — it’s not your usual look, they threw a zone at us,” Halfpenny said. “It was a different zone than we’ve seen before, a little high-pressure right out of the gate, and they were scrappy; they challenged everything, physical.”
As the first half neared its midway point, the score was tight — Notre Dame led just 3-2 with 16 minutes left in the half — but the Irish soon turned on the jets, scoring nine straight goals to lead 12-2 at halftime before starting the second stanza with another pair of goals, a run Halfpenny attributed to the way the Irish prepare for games.
“As soon as we got comfortable and got those first-game jitters out, we prepare each other so well top to bottom that we were prepared to play against that pressure because that’s how we compete every day in practice,” Halfpenny said.
Fortunato started the run by tallying her third goal of the afternoon and would notch another goal and four assists in the 11-0 streak, opening the season with an eight-point performance in a game where she recorded her 20th career hat trick.
Senior attack Rachel Sexton, who was second for Notre Dame with 37 goals a season before, joined Fortunato with a hat trick before halftime, and junior midfielder Casey Pearsall and senior attack Kiera McMullan had five- and four-point games respectively, showing the firepower of an offensive unit that’s now in its third season together.
“They’re vets. There’s so much experience out there right now,” Halfpenny said. “ … They really have a good handle on the structure that they’re in, yet bringing in their own individual creativity to the game.”
Halfpenny said she was pleased with the way Notre Dame moved the ball around Saturday; the Irish logged assists on 15 of their 18 goals.
“We couldn’t have been more excited about the pace of the ball, the speed at which it was moving, how many hands it was going through,” Halfpenny said. “Obviously, we don’t care how it gets in the back of the net, but when you see 15 helpers on 18 shots, that definitely shows that we’re using our high-powered, motion-style offense with seven different weapons out there.”
Notre Dame’s veteran qualities weren’t only on display in attack Saturday, with three of the squad’s captains — graduate student Barbara Sullivan and seniors Stephanie Peragallo and Brie Custis — working to limit Jacksonville to just 13 shots in a performance in which the Irish successfully cleared on 18 of 19 attempts.
The contributions from and chemistry among Notre Dame’s team Saturday didn’t only come from returning players, however, as three freshmen who played club lacrosse together in high school marked their Irish debuts with noteworthy performances: Attack Nikki Ortega scored and assisted twice for a four-point opener while Jenn Casadonte scored midway through the first half for her first collegiate point.
Goalie Samantha Giacolone, who was ranked as the top goalkeeper of this year’s class by Inside Lacrosse, marked her first time in an Irish uniform with a five-save performance en route to the win.
Notre Dame returns to action Saturday at noon for its home opener when it hosts No. 16 Stanford, looking to avenge an early-season loss a year ago.