ND Women’s Lacrosse
Notre Dame opens with two games over weekend
Alex Carson | Friday, February 13, 2015
No. 9 Notre Dame starts off its season with a pair of contests this weekend, looking to build off a 10-win 2014 campaign.
The Irish (0-0) travel to Cincinnati today for a 3 p.m. meeting with the Bearcats (0-0) before taking on Detroit (0-1) in their home opener Sunday at noon at Loftus Sports Center.
Notre Dame returns a majority of its goals from last season — all eight players that reached double digits on the scoresheet last year are back — and Irish coach Christine Halfpenny said she feels like her team has gotten even stronger in the offseason.
”We’re really excited about the amount of returning starters and returning contributors that we have this season,” Halfpenny said. “We’ve seen an enormous amount of growth physically, mentally and even emotionally on the field of play.”
Sophomore attack/midfielder Cortney Fortunato led the Irish with 46 goals in her freshman year and will be joined at the front by junior attacks Rachel Sexton and Kiera McMullan, who each broke the 25-goal mark last term.
“We’re excited to welcome some mainstays back — Kiera and Rachel and Cortney — that are really locking down that low offensive area,” Halfpenny said.
The returning leaders up front are not the only ones in the program though, and Halfpenny said a trio of freshmen attacks have acclimated well to the college game.
“They’ve had a very quick learning curve,” Halfpenny said. “[Freshmen attacks] Abi Cullinan, Sydney Cardozo and Olivia Mikkelsen … have really shown us some really exciting looks at what the future holds.”
While the Irish return plenty of firepower on attack, the midfielders are no slouches for the Irish, Halfpenny said.
“[The midfield] is probably the deepest part of our team,” Halfpenny said. “We’ve really worked hard on amping up and bringing in players in the midfield to really learn from the upperclassmen, and now we finally have upperclassmen outweighing underclassmen in the midfield.”
With the midfield depth, Halfpenny indicated that Notre Dame might be able to change things up in formation this year, with a 3-5-3 formation potentially in its arsenal.
“[Junior midfielder Stephanie Toy] is back, and we’re so deep in the midfield that we’re looking at the potential of being able to play a 3-5-3,” Halfpenny said. “[The formation] gives us an enormous amount of speed; it gives us the ability to keep players on the field while they rest behind the restraining lines.”
Despite everything, the biggest returner for the Irish in 2015 might be one that made a minimal impact on the field last year, as senior captain and defender Barbara Sullivan returns after an injury-plagued 2014.
Sullivan, who was a first-team All-American selection in 2013, was named to the preseason all-ACC team, and Halfpenny said the Irish have a difference-maker back in the fold.
“Now we have an X-factor player back to the lineup, which it’s very obvious that she’s been missing,” Halfpenny said. “Barbara’s back, ready to go, and hopefully we see that sophomore Barbara, that first-team All-American player who raises the level of every set we run.”
Despite only playing in six games last year, Halfpenny thinks her defensive standout has improved her game since that sophomore season.
“Her pressure is outstanding, and even though it was really hard to go an entire season without her at full-go, we’re seeing that she too grew in that year off,” Halfpenny said. “Her communication has amped up, and her hunger has amped up.”
Anchored by Sullivan, the Irish have become known for their high-pressure defense, and Halfpenny said the team will continue that moving into 2015.
“We’re very excited to continue our aggressive defense,” Halfpenny said.
Though Allie Murray, who started in goal for the Irish in 14 games last season, is no longer on the roster, Halfpenny said she is confident in her two sophomore options at the position, Liz O’Sullivan and Jennifer Blum. O’Sullivan saw time in 14 contests last season and started five of them.
“Our sophomore goalkeepers have just had a tremendous offseason,” Halfpenny said. “ … We’re thrilled with what they’re bringing to the table — their communication, their maturity just through having the freshman years under their belt.”
Despite winning last year’s contest 25-1, the Irish are looking at today’s game against the Bearcats as a good chance for a challenge.
“We’re really excited to see what the team puts out there Friday against Cincinnati, who will be an incredible opponent,” Halfpenny said “[They’re] super physical; they’ve been getting better every single year under the leadership of [coach] Regina Oliver.”
Halfpenny said with another season of ACC play on the horizon, Notre Dame needed to find a good mixture of teams in its non-conference schedule.
“Playing in the toughest conference in the country, we have to find the right balance with our non-conference schedule as well,” Halfpenny said. “We want to play teams that are going to test us, that are going to look different from one to the next because that’s what the ACC is like.”
The Irish take on Cincinnati today at 3 p.m. on the road before returning home Sunday for a noon matchup with Detroit at Loftus Sports Center.