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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Irish prepare to host No. 2 Tar Heels in conference matchup

| Friday, March 31, 2017

A week ago, No. 13 Notre Dame faced the potential of taking on No. 2 North Carolina, the defending national champions, while trying to avoid a five-game losing streak.

Instead, the Irish (9-4, 3-1 ACC) go into the game with a newfound confidence after a comfortable 16-7 win over No. 11 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, the biggest threat to the Tar Heels (10-1, 3-0) in the ACC in recent years.

Approaching what may be the toughest game of the season, the win is proof that a fully-prepared Notre Dame team is more than capable of beating top teams, Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said.

Irish sophomore midfielder Samantha Lynch looks for a teammate during Notre Dame's 16-13 win over Ohio State on March 7 at Arlotta Stadium.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Irish sophomore midfielder Samantha Lynch looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 16-13 win over Ohio State on March 7 at Arlotta Stadium.

“I think that it just basically affirms what great preparation can do for us this season,” Halfpenny said. “We had a really great week of preparation, we were very focused, we gave great effort, we improved and we really put our focus back on ourselves and making sure that we do the little things. Getting the result that we did really just played into us putting a full 60 minute battle together, so obviously that allows us to go into this week and know that if we prepare really well, we can again look forward to a good solid 60 minute performance.”

The Irish have never beaten North Carolina in six previous meetings, with last year’s regular season matchup ending in a 14-8 Tar Heels victory, before North Carolina knocked the Irish out of the NCAA tournament at the quarterfinal stage. The Tar Heels have lost only to No. 1 Maryland this year, their lone defeat in their last 28 games. North Carolina is first in the ACC in goals per game, with junior midfielder Ela Hazar playing a major part in the Tar Heels offense, leading the ACC in assists per game.

The Tar Heels are also first in the nation in draw controls per game with 17.18, and for the second game running the Irish will have to face the nation’s individual leader in draw controls. After the Irish held Syracuse’s Morgan Widner — who is averaging just under nine draw controls per game for the rest of the season — to just two draw controls, she fell behind Tar Heels senior midfielder Sammy Jo Tracy in that statistic. Halfpenny said her team needs to be fully prepared against the national champions, who bring strength and discipline in many areas.

“They’re very, very fast top-to-bottom and obviously they’ve built some great confidence along the way on the heels of a national title last season, defending that this year,” Halfpenny said. “They’re very disciplined at what they do, they have multiple scoring threats, they have sound fundamentals and they play hard. That’s something we have to be ready for on Sunday.

“We’re going to have to be disciplined, we’re going to have to give our career-best effort at this point in the season, we’re going to have to bring great communication at this point in the season, we’re going to have to limit our turnovers. That’s something we’ve been focusing on all year long, but against a team that likes to really put great pressure on you in the transition game specifically, they’ll be looking for as many second-chance opportunities as they can get. And if you give them too many second-chance opportunities, they will execute and they will make you pay for them.”

The game will also be a matchup of two of the ACC’s top goalkeepers. Irish sophomore Samantha Giacolone received National Player of the Week honors after her 13-save, four-ground-ball game against the Orange (8-4, 2-1), but will now have to protect the Irish goal against the ACC’s top offense knowing her offense faces senior two-time All-American Caylee Waters. Giacolone said she expects a tough game, but believes the Irish proved last week that they can get the win.

“I think it’s going to be a great game, it’s going to be a tough, very aggressive and scrappy game: it always is,” Giacolone said. “Losing to them in the Elite Eight last year was definitely hard, but I think we are going in with the thought that this challenge is put in front of us and you have to overcome it. We just have to go in and be confident in what we do and I think that beating Syracuse has done a lot to give us that confidence.”

The Irish and Tar Heels will meet at Arlotta Stadium on Sunday. Opening draw is at noon.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a sophomore 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 supports the Philadelphia Eagles because they were good in 2010 and has had to deal with disappointment every year since. He supports the Golden State Warriors because they are good now and will abandon them when they stop being good.

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