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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Irish struggle down stretch against top teams

| Friday, May 13, 2016

When the 2016 season started, Notre Dame was no stranger to top-level competition: 11 of 12 starters returned from 2015’s team as the Irish set to take on another loaded schedule. The experienced Irish team played their way to a 13-6 record, third place in the ACC and a conference semi-final appearance.

Notre Dame began the season looking like one of the most impressive teams in the nation. It had five wins in its opening five games, averaging 16 goals scored per game and less than five allowed per game. The stretch was highlighted by a 14-4 win over then-No. 9 Boston College, which included a run of 10 unanswered goals to guide the Irish to a victory in their ACC opener. Notre Dame jumped to No. 5 in the polls before a back-and-forth, overtime encounter at Louisville saw the Irish lose their first game of the season.

Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said the number of players who had started for the Irish before 2016 ensured her team was ready from the start.

“It gave us a lot of experience,” Halfpenny said. “Players understood the road that we were about to embark upon, the work we were going to put in and experience as leaders off the field and experience as players on the field. That just catapulted us and, specifically, catapulted the mindset and culture of this year’s team.”

The Irish had no trouble bouncing back from their first defeat, though, with four more wins, including a 16-4 defeat of then-No. 9 Virginia, pushing the Irish back into the top-5 teams in the country at No. 4. A top-5 matchup with No. 5 Syracuse at Arlotta Stadium gave the Irish an opportunity to make a huge statement, but for the second time in the season, the Irish were defeated in a close game, falling 12-11. From there, the Irish struggled to return to their winning ways as they faced some of the top teams in the country down the stretch, falling to then-No. 3 North Carolina and fighting in a defensive encounter with then-No. 5 USC that ended 5-4 in favor of the Trojans.

Notre Dame closed the regular season with a win before the ACC tournament, where the Irish exacted revenge over Louisville but could not do the same to Syracuse, as the Orange won 9-5 to advance to the conference final.

2016 was the final year at Notre Dame for graduate student defender Barbara Sullivan. Starting a record 80 games for the Irish since her debut appearance in 2012, Sullivan has become one of the most decorated players in program history. She is second all-time in program history in ground balls and first in both draw controls and caused turnovers. Sullivan holds each of the three highest single-season draw control totals for the Irish and set the the single-season caused turnover record this year, tying the single-game record twice. Halfpenny said Sullivan’s impact on Notre Dame lacrosse cannot be understated.

Irish graduate student defender Barbara Sullivan carries the ball upfield during Notre Dame’s 5-4 loss to USC on April 18.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Irish graduate student defender Barbara Sullivan carries the ball upfield during Notre Dame’s 5-4 loss to USC on April 18.

“I don’t want to even think about her leaving,” Halfpenny said. “Barbara has been synonymous with Notre Dame women’s lacrosse since I’ve been here, and she’s really left an incredible legacy. To have a top player with top work ethic and top leadership skills doesn’t happen all the time. I don’t know if I can quite put into words how much she means to this program and, specifically, how much she means to me. It’s been humbling to have the opportunity to coach her.”

The Irish will begin NCAA tournament play on Friday when they take on the winner of Northwestern-Louisville at Arlotta Stadium.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Contact Daniel