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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Northwestern beats Notre Dame in Irish season opener

| Monday, February 6, 2017

Comeback attempts at the end of each half for No. 8 Notre Dame fell short in a close encounter with rival No. 9 Northwestern, as the Wildcats defeated the Irish 14-13 at Loftus Sports Center in Notre Dame’s season-opener.

In a rematch of last year’s NCAA second round game, the Irish (0-1) scored the opening goal when senior attack Grace Muller kept control of the ball under the challenge of a defender and fired her shot into the top-right corner of the goal. The Wildcats (2-0) answered quickly though, scoring on their first two possessions of the game to take the lead.

After Notre Dame tied it up eight minutes into the half, Northwestern answered again with a 6-0 run to take an 8-2 lead shortly after the 15-minute mark. Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said her team had some difficulties early on, though she was impressed by its performance for the remainder of the game.

“It’s a typical first game,” Halfpenny said. “You saw a little bit of good, a little bit of bad. At times, I feel like there was a little bit of ugly. If we could take out that first 20 minutes, we could stat it up and see what we did there. That’s the most encouraging piece of this.”

Some fancy stick work from senior forward Cortney Fortunato started a comeback for Notre Dame, and after five consecutive goals in six minutes, including two in nine seconds by senior attack Casey Pearsall, the Irish drew level at 9-9. Notre Dame could not take the tie into halftime however, as Northwestern took the lead back just over 40 seconds later.

A scoring drought for the first 15 minutes of the second half put the Irish back in a hole, trailing 13-9 before freshman midfielder Savannah Buchanan scored the first Notre Dame goal of the half.

With Notre Dame trailing by three goals with two minutes left, Buchanan helped the Irish bring the game back within reach when she was fouled immediately after scoring. The foul gave the Irish the ensuing draw, which they converted to put the game back within one goal. However, the Wildcats won the final draw of the game, and although the Irish won the ball back, the five seconds remaining were not enough to tie the score. 

“I’m disappointed with the result, but that’s on me,” Halfpenny said. “I’ve got to figure out a way to get us more prepared to not have 15 turnovers. We’re going to go back to the drawing board and clean up some of those errors. You’ve got to credit Northwestern; they, too, were playing with some new faces. They came after us, and they did a really nice job. They took advantage of those missed opportunities we had. Northwestern is so well-coached; they made adjustments.”

Pearsall controlled eight draws, while Buchanan scored four goals in her first ever game for the Irish. Halfpenny said she felt Buchanan’s performance was among the highlights of the day for her team.

“Everybody can see she’s certainly living up to all the hype,” Halfpenny said. “Her stat line is just incredible. She’s a game-changer. Her smart and patient shooting was outstanding today. She was a presence everywhere, right next to Casey [Pearsall], Cortney [Fortunato] and Grace [Muller].”

The Irish defense — starting a season without stalwart Barbara Sullivan for the first time since 2011 — caused only six turnovers, its lowest total since a 7-6 victory over Virginia in 2015 and 10 less than the total against the Wildcats in last year’s NCAA tournament meeting. Halfpenny said she was confident her team would respond well to the defeat.

“I’m proud of our effort,” Halfpenny said. “I’m proud of this team. I love this team. I love this team. They care so much. They sacrifice so much. From top to bottom, this one’s not going to sit well with them, and I think that’s good. It’s a good reminder for them for the future. We’re looking forward to our next opportunity.

“We have a lot of the pieces to the puzzle, if not all of them. That’s awesome — the way our seniors played and showed their experience, their determination, that’s only going to bode well for this program going forward. When you start off with this kind of test, the sky’s the limit for them.”

The Irish will play Liberty on Friday at Loftus Sports Center. The game begins at 7 p.m.

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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