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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Irish comeback falls short at Northwestern

| Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Notre Dame staged a second-half comeback but ultimately fell short at Northwestern on Sunday, dropping their second match in a row.

The No. 10 Irish (10-4, 3-3 ACC) scored the first two goals of the game before the Wildcats (6-6, 1-1 Big Ten) reeled off five in a row, bringing the score to 5-2 in favor of the home team roughly twelve minutes into the opening half. The Irish answered with their third and final goal of the half six minutes later, but struggled to create any more offense beyond that. The Wildcats managed four more goals in the following 18 minutes, bringing a formidable 9-3 lead into halftime.

Freshman attack Nikki Ortega fends off defenders during Notre Dame’s 21-2 victory over California on Feb. 28 at Arlotta Stadium. Ortega had two shots in the Irish loss to Northwestern on Sunday. Chris Collins | The Observer

Freshman attack Nikki Ortega fends off defenders during Notre Dame’s 21-2 victory over California on Feb. 28 at Arlotta Stadium. Ortega had two shots in the Irish loss to Northwestern on Sunday.

Despite the early deficit, though, the Irish fought back, managing to shrink Northwestern’s lead to 3 roughly 10 minutes into the second half. Notre Dame’s offensive surge was led by the team’s leading scorers. Junior attack Cortney Fortunato paced the Irish with five goals, adding two assists to amount to a seven-point afternoon. Junior midfielders Alex Dalton and Casey Pearsall also scored two goals apiece for the Irish.

Senior midfielder Hannah Hartman spoke highly of her teammates, crediting the team’s offensive success in the second half to their ability to facilitate communication while on the field.

“They are both extremely talented players and great leaders when it comes to communication on the offensive end,” Hartman said. “Cortney, as a righty, and [senior] Rachel [Sexton], as a lefty, are able to work both sides of the field and get great looks.”

Unfortunately for the Irish, their second half offensive surge was not enough to close the gap.  For the remainder of the game, the Wildcats seemed to have an offensive answer for every Irish opportunity, responding to every Irish goal with one of their own. Despite outshooting Northwestern 16-10 in the second half and scoring nine second-half goals to Northwestern’s eight, the Irish simply ran out of time and found themselves unable to finish off the comeback.

Irish freshman attacker Nikki Ortega looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 16-4 loss to Virginia on Mar. 19 at Arlotta Stadium. Grace Tourville | The Observer

Irish freshman attacker Nikki Ortega looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 16-4 loss to Virginia on Mar. 19 at Arlotta Stadium.

Sunday’s loss established the Irish’s first losing streak of the year – they dropped their conference matchup against North Carolina the weekend before. Despite the setback, Hartman spoke of the series of difficult matchups as an opportunity for the team to grow.

“We have a very high strength of schedule,” Hartman said. “So every week, regardless if it’s an ACC opponent or an out-of-conference opponent, it’s a tough game. We approach games with a focus on us. Our schedule has challenged us and definitely caused us to grow as a team.”

The Irish have three games remaining on their regular season schedule before heading to Blacksburg, Virginia, for the ACC tournament at the end of April – which means that the team’s senior leadership is rapidly approaching the conclusion to their final season. Hartman claimed the rapidly concluding schedule provided further motivation for the team to redouble their efforts — particularly amongst the upperclassmen.

“The better we play on the field, the longer we get to compete, and the longer we stay here with our teammates,” Hartman said, “so it’s pretty easy to stay focused when the end is in sight. It’s emotional, but it’s also exciting knowing that this team can be together until Memorial Day weekend.”

The Irish are in a good position to finish off their most successful season ever in their short tenure in the ACC. They are set to host No. 15 Duke (9-5, 4-1 ACC) next Sunday for the conclusion of their conference schedule. A win over the Blue Devils would earn the Irish their highest placement in the conference since their joining in 2013.

The Irish will next face the Blue Devils on Saturday at noon at Arlotta Stadium.

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