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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Notre Dame battles Tar Heels

| Thursday, February 27, 2014

No. 12 Notre Dame hits the road for the first time this season Thursday, traveling to Chapel Hill, N.C., to face the defending national champions, the No. 1 Tar Heels.

Notre Dame (2-1, 0-1 ACC) has already faced a pair of ranked teams this season, falling 15-10 to No. 10 Boston College and beating No. 15 Stony Brook 8-7. Against Stony Brook on Saturday night, the Irish used a strong performance from freshman attacker Cortney Fortunato to pull out to an early 7-2 lead. Fortunato had four goals and two assists, and that performance, combined with junior goaltender Allie Murray’s ability to staunch a late Seawolves’ comeback, enabled the Irish to pull off the one-goal victory.

Those contests, however, were both at home, while Notre Dame’s upcoming three-game road trip includes North Carolina (4-0, 0-0) and No. 4 Northwestern. According to Irish coach Christine Halfpenny, the early tests, as well as experience gained by the Irish from scrimmages in the fall, have prepared Notre Dame for its high-pressure travels.

“Fortunately … we already had the opportunity to play top competition often in the fall,” Halfpenny said. “At the end of the day, these opponents, we have seen. Northwestern we saw twice in the fall. … There’s a familiarity there. With [North] Carolina, we’ve been playing them every fall since I’ve been coaching.”

The Tar Heels come into Thursday’s game having scored at least 18 goals in all four of their games thus far, while also limiting opponents to eight or fewer goals in each game. Notre Dame will be their first conference opponent of the season but not the first ranked team the Tar Heels have seen. North Carolina crushed No. 7 Florida 20-8 in the opening game of the Tar Heels’ season. Halfpenny said a relentlessly efficient offensive attack is what makes the Tar Heels so dangerous.

“They play with a very, very fast pace,” Halfpenny said. “They have a very solid set of skills, and they’re pretty deep. They have two very respectable goalkeepers that are doing a nice job for them. But I think, top to bottom, they play a really strong team style with their speed and athleticism.”

The duo of goalies used by the Tar Heels is made up of sophomore Megan Ward and freshman Caylee Waters, two of the many underclassman stars utilized by North Carolina. Another one of their talented young players, freshman attacker Sydney Holman, recently tied a school record with six assists during the Tar Heels’ 22-8 victory over Vanderbilt. Senior attackers Abbey Friend and Taylor George led the balanced Carolina offense against the Commodores with six and five goals, respectively. Despite the Tar Heels’ intimidating potency, Halfpenny said the Irish believe they will be successful if they execute their own game plan.
“Our big focus to get off on the right foot on our first road trip of the year is to really focus on Notre Dame lacrosse,” Halfpenny said. “We feel very optimistic about how our athleticism matches up with North Carolina’s. While they’re having a lot of success with young players on the field, we’re doing the same. We’ll focus on our game and stay disciplined within what we’re doing.”

The Tar Heels will look to remain undefeated against an upset-minded Notre Dame Thursday at 7 p.m. in Chapel Hill.

Contact Casey Karnes at [email protected]

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