ND Women’s Lacrosse
Irish welcome Wildcats in rivalry showdown
Zach Klonsinski | Thursday, April 16, 2015
Notre Dame continues its break from ACC conference play tonight at Arlotta Stadium.
Instead of a conference foe, however, it’s only seven-time national champion Northwestern.
The No. 7 Wildcats (9-4, 3-1 Big Ten) have controlled the Midwestern rivalry with the No. 11 Irish (9-5, 3-3 ACC); Northwestern beat Notre Dame in 14 straight games, including four times in the NCAA tournament, before the Irish finally snapped that streak last season with a 9-8 triumph in Lake Barrington, Illinois.
“For us, our goal last year was to even the score,” Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “To make that actually, like, that balanced rivalry which we felt like we had the players to make that happen.
“ … It might not be a conference rivalry, but it was hands-down our — we’ve made it now our top out of conference rivalry.”
Notre Dame has won six of its last seven games, including road upsets of No. 6 Virginia and No. 9 Syracuse — the former in blowout fashion, 14-4 — as well as a win over No. 16 Ohio State. The average margin of victory for Notre Dame in those six wins: 7.5 goals. Excluding the 12-11 overtime win over the Orange, the margin jumps to 8.8 goals per game.
The only loss for the Irish during the streak? A 9-8 decision to No. 2 North Carolina in which the Irish overcame a 7-1 hole to tie the game, only to see the game ripped away from them by a late goal.
Before this recent stretch, Notre Dame was fighting just to stay eligible for the NCAA Tournament. On March 14, the Irish were 3-4 and on a three-game losing streak that included double-digit losses at No. 3 Duke and No. 4 Boston College. That day, the Irish beat Virginia Tech 15-8 and have not looked back.
A month later, after their ninth win Sunday against Michigan, 21-12, the Irish have clinched at least a winning record, something Halfpenny said, if nothing else, has given her team a huge morale boost.
“Got to nine, which is great, but it doesn’t really guarantee anything,” Halfpenny said. “We had a little meeting that was like, ‘We haven’t won anything yet.’
“But the reality is, what we did win is confidence. Being able to go on the road and knock off Virginia and Syracuse and then come back and put 21 up on our home field, we haven’t done that yet this year. I think that that puts it together where they continue to prove to themselves that they are something, they are special. They’re doing something right, and it’s going to work.”
Tonight against the Wildcats, though, Notre Dame has a chance to lay claim to more than just a confidence booster: a top-eight seed in the NCAA tournament and an opportunity to host the opening rounds is within reach.
“We refocused on that and that’s absolutely our goal,” Halfpenny said. “That’s absolutely motivating because it was really fun to be here for the first and second round in May last year, and we want to do that again.”
Of course, before that happens, the Irish have to deal with a number of challengers, starting the Wildcats tonight. Northwestern is familiar with high-profile games; the Wildcats are 4-4 this year against top-10 teams.
There’s Selena Lasota, too. The freshman midfielder leads her team in scoring with 48 goals on the season, the same number sophomore midfielder Cortney Fortunato has tallied for Notre Dame.
“We’ve got to look at Lasota as their biggest threat,” Halfpenny said. “We’re going to contain her as best we can, but she will get hers. … If we can contain and limit her ability to go on a major run, we’re going to feel pretty confident about what we can do.”
The Irish have lived by the fast-break game at times this season, something Halfpenny said they look to continue tonight.
“Our fast-break game has been really, really strong,” Halfpenny said. “We have great chemistry coming off that line, whether it’s from a caused turnover, a goalie clear or the draw, so we feel that fast-break game should be giving us that momentum.
“ … As many turnovers as [the Wildcats] are causing, they’re also giving the ball back just as much, and for us against another high-pressure team, that’s something we’re going to focus on. If we focus in our play, one play at a time, we feel really strong about coming away with a result that we’ll like.”
The Irish and Wildcats will take to the field tonight at Arlotta Stadium, with the opening draw scheduled for 7 p.m.