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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Irish top Phoenix, roll to fifth consecutive win

| Friday, February 24, 2017

No. 9 Notre Dame enters ACC play on a winning note after handing Elon its first loss of the season with a 16-7 victory in the second match of a three-game road trip.

Neither team took an early advantage, as almost eight minutes passed without a goal. After senior midfielder Casey Pearsall passed from the free position to senior attack Cortney Fortunato to open the scoring, however, the Irish (5-1) rolled. Senior midfielder Alex Dalton doubled the Irish lead and, although Elon countered with one goal, five Irish goals in as many minutes — three of which were scored by sophomore attack Nikki Ortega — helped the Irish reach the half with a 9-2 lead.

Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said her team was focused from the start against a young Elon program that already has wins over ranked ACC opponents, as it topped Duke in 2016 and Virginia this season.

“Obviously, we did our work in scouting. They were a really strong team last year — they beat Duke last year,” Halfpenny said. “They’re only in the fourth year of their program, but they’re a strong contender in the CAA, so we were prepared. We get everybody’s best game anyway, regardless of who we play. But they were a very good opponent.”

Sophomore midfielder Makenna Pearsall looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 24-9 win over Detroit on Feb. 11 at Loftus Sports Center.Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer

Sophomore midfielder Makenna Pearsall looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 24-9 win over Detroit on Feb. 11 at Loftus Sports Center.

Fortunato opened the second-half scoring for the Irish, and although the Phoenix (4-1) cut the Irish lead to 10-4, Notre Dame reasserted its control with the next four goals. Elon added three late goals, before goals from junior attack Abi Cullinan and freshman attack Jessi Masinko inside the final two minutes ensured a final score of 16-7.

Fortunato — the nation’s leading goalscorer — led the Irish in goals with four, while Pearsall tallied three goals, four assists, three draw controls, two caused turnovers and one ground ball. Halfpenny said she was impressed with Pearsall’s ability to make an impact in every aspect of the game.

“I think she was just an all-around strong player,” Halfpenny said.“She did a great job in dealing with their top draw specialist and gaining us some possession, and then converting in the offensive game. Overall, it was a great leadership day for her and outstanding execution as well.”

Dalton collected six ground balls and caused three turnovers in addition to her goal while coming off the bench. Sophomore goalkeeper Samantha Giacalone, after 12 saves in Saturday’s 12-5 victory over Michigan, added another 11 in Thursday’s win.

The Phoenix had the advantage on the draw, winning 14 of 25 draw controls. Notre Dame, already leading the nation in caused turnovers after recording the most nationally in each of the previous four years, added 13 more against Elon to bring its tally to 82 so far this season. Elon’s leading scorer, junior attack Stephanie Asher — who scored five goals in the Phoenix’s upset victory over then-No. 13 Virginia on Feb. 11 and totaled 17 for the season before meeting Notre Dame — was held to only one goal and no assists. Freshman attack Blair Kessler was the main threat to the Notre Dame defense, scoring three goals and adding an assist.

The Irish face a quick turnaround this weekend, staying in North Carolina to open ACC play against No. 8 Duke. The Blue Devils (4-0) are currently undefeated after recording a 12-8 victory over then-No. 12 Stanford last week in Frisco, Texas. Junior attack Kyra Harney and junior midfielder Maddie Crutchfield lead the Blue Devils with nine goals each, and Harney has also added eight assists. Duke has won 66 of 99 draw controls so far this season, with sophomore attack Olivia Jenner ranking fourth in the nation with 31 draw controls.

“We’ve gotten comfortable in terms of knowing what they do after playing them in the last three years in the ACC,” Halfpenny said of Duke. “They’re very fast, very talented, they have many good pieces of the puzzle. They have strong draw specialists who we’ll be going up against on Sunday. They play a really strong, solid and fundamentally sound [one-on-one] defense. Offensively, they move the ball really well and have the ability to be quite dynamic.”

The Irish and the Blue Devils meet at Koskinen Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, on Sunday. Opening draw is scheduled for noon.

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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