ND Women’s Lacrosse
Notre Dame rolls through opening weekend with two wins
Zach Klonsinski | Monday, February 16, 2015
No. 9 Notre Dame began its season on a pair of high notes over the weekend, defeating Cincinnati, 14-5, on the road Friday and following that up with a 17-5 win against Detroit on Sunday at Loftus Sports Center.
The Irish (2-0) took control using an early offensive outburst against Cincinnati (0-2). After falling behind 1-0 to start the game, Notre Dame scored eight straight goals in a 12:45 stretch to put the Bearcats away. Sophomore attack/midfielder Cortney Fortunato and senior attack Rachel Sexton each had a pair of goals during the stretch.
Fortunato’s six points on four goals and two assists paced Notre Dame offensively in the game. Junior attack Kiera McMullan added four points on a goal and a trio of assists to follow Fortunato, while sophomore attack Grace Muller and Sexton registered a hat trick apiece.
Notre Dame’s high-pressure defense forced 24 Cincinnati turnovers, while its offense coughed the ball up only 10 times, something that is a hallmark of its aggressive style of play, senior defenseman Leah Gallagher said.
“We really like to attack the ball, go get it,” Gallagher said. “We like to dictate a lot. That’s the main word I would use to describe out defense: dictative.”
In the team’s home opener Sunday, Notre Dame overcame a sluggish first half to pull away from the Titans (0-2). Tied 4-4 with 7:35 remaining in the first stanza, the Irish came out of a timeout, won control off a draw, and Fortunato immediately passed to a streaking Muller deep in the Detroit end. Muller put her shot past senior goalkeeper Lexie McCormick to put the Irish up 5-4. That sparked a 13-1 Notre Dame run to finish the game.
“It’s tied 4-4, we’re letting the girls work it out, we’re letting our on-field leadership work it out, but after that timeout we kind of hit that nail in the door,” Irish coach Christine Halfpenny said. “That’s where the game changed.”
Detroit’s lone goal of the stretch came with just 1:34 remaining in the game, by which time Notre Dame’s starters were all on the bench. The Irish forced 22 Titan turnovers, 13 of which came in the second half.
“We were starting to get the draws in the second half and that really changed the momentum and put it in our favor,” Gallagher said of her team’s defensive effort in the second half. “In practice the defense has it going from the first minute, but we just have to find a way to carry that over into games.”
Muller recorded a hat trick in the first half on her way to finishing with four scores in the game. The sophomore recorded 10 goals all of last season, but has found the back of the net seven times this year, a stat Muller was quick to credit to her teammates.
“It goes back to the whole team mentality, and everyone setting each other up for success and what’s working in a game and what’s not,” Muller said. “Today, it was a day where it worked well for my position, whereas the next game it might work for [Fortunato, McMullan or Sexton].”
Early-season confidence boosters like Muller’s production will be essential for the team’s success, Halfpenny said.
“For still having a lot of sophomores out on the field, that’s a good thing for us,” Halfpenny said. “It’s building more confidence that we need. It’s building more swag that we need, so we’re really excited.”
The weekend’s performances gave the Irish a hot start, but they are still looking to improve over the next couple practices before flying out west in a few days, Halfpenny said.
“We have to continue to control the controllables, and we have to come out a lot quicker,” Halfpenny said. “We can’t wait to get adjusted, so we’re going to address that. We’re going to continue to address the hustle stat categories.”
Notre Dame is back in action next weekend when it makes a swing out to the West Coast. The Irish will meet up with No. 18 Stanford on Friday at 10:30 p.m., and then face off with California at 2 p.m. Sunday.