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Women’s Lacrosse: Halfpenny leads team to NCAAs

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Change to believe in.

Whether in offense, defense or attitude, change was made in every facet of the program during Irish coach Christine Halfpenny’s first season at Notre Dame. Notre Dame (13-5, 6-2 Big East) quickly bought into its new coach’s system, and the team returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time in two years as a result.

When Halfpenny arrived on campus last summer, she had only a few months to implement her high-motion offense, aggressive defense and positive energy with the team. Her players began to grasp the system as the fall wore into spring and squeezed out a 17-14 win in their opener against Stanford.

The team continued to improve one game at a time and jumped out to No. 6 ranking with an 8-0 start to the season – its best start in nearly a decade.

“We just allowed our hard work to take care of the big picture,” Halfpenny said. “We found ourselves, and it was like, ‘Wow, we’re 3-0 out of nowhere,’ then ‘Oh, all the sudden we’re 5-0.’ So that was really neat, to find ourselves and be in that position after eight games.”

The Irish then hit a wall in their schedule, facing off against their two toughest Big East foes in a span of three days. A 17-11 loss to Loyola was followed by a 16-10 loss to Syracuse, and suddenly Notre Dame’s momentum was halted.

However, Halfpenny said that the team used the losses, learning how to play winning lacrosse in the process.

“It was definitely tough, because I think that showed us that next level of competition,” she said. “I think that showed us that if you meet some adversity in the middle of a game that you have to move on to the next play … We learned a lot of lessons from those games, and I think they helped us grow as a program.”

The team bounced back from those defeats, gritting their way to a number of tight victories behind their senior leaders. Senior attack Maggie Tamasitis was the pivot of the team’s new offense, breaking multiple team and conference records through her passing acumen and offensive vision. Senior midfielders Megan Sullivan and Kate Newall and senior defender Jordy Shoemaker helped shore up the Irish defensively, allowing just 8.3 goals per game in their last six regular season games – losing only to No. 1 Northwestern, 17-7, in that span. The final note to the season was a resounding one, as the Irish drubbed Cincinnati 22-2 on Senior Day.

“We were able to respond to those conference losses right out of the gate, and then to culminate the season against Cincinnati on Senior Day was something really special,” Halfpenny said. “Seeing every single senior out there and knowing that they were a part of such a big change and a new era and have paved the way for the future, that was fantastic.”

The postseason was not as kind to the Irish, as they lost once again to Loyola in the conference tournament before bowing out to Northwestern in the NCAAs. However, the team played both elite opponents much tighter in their second matchup, losing by just two to Loyola, while keeping Northwestern within three goals until the final seconds.

That progress, combined with the team’s returning talent and incoming freshmen, has Halfpenny excited for next season.

“To come up just short just gets you more motivated,” she said. “We’re looking forward to more improvement. Hopefully we’ll have a little bit more understanding of the system.
“We have some great players coming back, plus ten experienced freshmen ready to move in in August. We’re definitely looking forward to some more exciting games and another strong push in May in 2013.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at [email protected]