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Women’s Lacrosse: Top-ranked Northwestern end ND’s season

Matt Gamber | Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Notre Dame’s season made history, as junior Jillian Byers broke the program’s career scoring record and the Irish became the first women’s team to compete in Notre Dame Stadium.

But the nation’s top team, three-time defending champion Northwestern, didn’t care about any of that, ending Notre Dame’s season Monday with a 15-7 victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“We were excited to play Northwestern because we faced them earlier in the season,” assistant coach Meredith Simon said of a 16-2 Irish loss on April 9. “They’re the best team in the country right now, so it doesn’t get much more exciting than competing against the top team. Even though it wasn’t our ideal choice to play them in the first round, we knew we’d probably have to face them eventually, so why not in the first round?”

Head coach Tracy Coyne was not available for comment.

The Irish were fortunate to even qualify for the tournament after losing a heartbreaking 15-14 triple-overtime decision to Georgetown in the semifinals of the Big East tournament – held in Notre Dame Stadium.

Any awe or excitement at playing in the stadium the Irish had was replaced by the sting of allowing the Hoyas to overcome an 8-1 deficit and eventually win in sudden death. Notre Dame was determined not to let the defeat end its hopes of a NCAA berth, Simon said.

“Throuhgout the season, our team did a great job of bouncing back off tough losses,” she said. “It was tough for them, but they came back together as a group and were ready to go right away. They were committed to make the last regular season game [a 15-11 win over Colgate on May 3] a good one.”

Byers (67 goals, 14 assists) broke the previous record of 161 career goals against Duke and finished her junior campaign with 179. Byers was joined by senior captain Caitlin McKinney (38 goals, 25 assists) as a first-team all-Big East selection.

“Jill’s awesome. We’re excited to have her back because she’s definitely the heart of our attack,” Simon said. “Having her be a senior and step up into a leadership role next year will be awesome for us.”

McKinney (38 goals, 25 assists) led a senior class that also received key contributions from Heather Ferguson (18 goals, 11 assists) and defensive stalwart and co-captain Becky Ranck.

“The senior class was great. They were the glue that kept the team together,” Simon said. “They were very unified as a group and were always willing to put the team first to work together as a class to help our team through all the ups and downs. What a great leadership class as a whole.”