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ND Women’s Lacrosse

ND looks to boost NCAA hopes

| Thursday, April 23, 2015

The last time Notre Dame walked off the turf at Klockner Stadium, it was after a 14-4 throttling of then-No. 4 Virginia on April 4, the first victory over the Cavaliers in program history.

The Irish (9-7, 3-4 ACC) take to the same field against the same Cavaliers (11-5, 4-3) on Thursday in Charlottesville, Virginia, this time to advance to the semifinals of the ACC tournament and add another quality win to their NCAA tournament aspirations.

“We are still out there to prove things,” Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “Nothing has been determined yet for the month of May.

“We’re right back where we were the last time we were headed out to Virginia, and that game seems like forever ago, and the reality is, we’re focused on ourselves once again. We’re back at the same tipping point we were at before. Our backs are up against the wall. We need another great win.”

The important rematch pits the No. 11 Irish, the fifth seed in the tournament, against the fourth-seeded Cavaliers, ranked fifth nationally, in what will be a drastically different game the second time around, Halfpenny said.

“[April 4] was a special day for Notre Dame lacrosse, but I’ve never coached the same collegiate lacrosse team twice,” Halfpenny said of what she expected of her team Thursday. “I’ve never had the same team show up twice, no matter where I’ve coached.

“ … [The Cavaliers are] on their home turf, and when you look at that, that could add a little fuel to their fire, a little comfort for them. There is human nature, revenge, redemption, but the reality is, we got to where we were in that game by staying focused on one ball at a time, one play at a time.”

Despite the final score, the first matchup could have been much closer. Irish sophomore goalkeeper Liz O’Sullivan turned away 11 of the 15 shots on goal from the Cavaliers, good for a 73 percent save percentage, far above her season average of 41 percent. The Irish also put 14 of their 21 shots on goal past Cavaliers freshman goalkeeper Rachel Vander Kolk, whose 33 percent save percentage on the day was well below her 42 percent season average.

“It was far from a perfect game,” Halfpenny said. “Virginia did have their opportunities and plenty of them, but we did, too, and we didn’t convert on all our chances. Not even close.

“The possession battle is going to be massive in this game. … When it’s tournament time, you need to be prepared to make plays. You’ve got to have the guts and the courage to make plays.”

Backed by O’Sullivan’s strong performance between the pipes, Notre Dame roared out to an 11-0 lead just over 12 minutes into the second half before the Cavaliers finally solved the sophomore from New Canaan, Connecticut. Sophomore attack Cortney Fortunato — who was named second team All-ACC yesterday, alongside a first-team selection in senior defender Barbara Sullivan — led the way for the Irish with eight points on six goals and two assists, while fellow sophomore attack Grace Muller chipped in a pair of goals as well.

Notre Dame stumbled in closing out its regular season, dropping two matches at home last weekend to No. 9 Northwestern, 10-9, and No. 11 Louisville, 10-8, so the Irish need a strong showing this weekend in Charlottesville to bolster their NCAA tournament résumé. Halfpenny said her team lacked the necessary focus in the losses last weekend, something she said determines the outcomes of games at this point in the season.

“You’ve already put everything in you’re going to put in,” Halfpenny said. “You’re going to make minor tweaks and tighten up things here and there, but the reality is, our players have to go back and take great confidence in all of the preparation they’ve had to this point and really focus on one play at a time.

“ … Focusing when they have the ball in their stick. That’s huge. Focusing on getting the ball in their stick. I think at times, we were getting overwhelmed with a lack of calls or our opponents that are coming in and hip-checking and all these things. That’s part of the game. That’s been all season. Nothing’s changed there, so we are looking for players to get excited and focused.”

Notre Dame and Virginia will square off in the second of four ACC quarterfinals Thursday afternoon. Game time at Klockner Stadium is set for 1 p.m., following the game between No. 2 North Carolina, the top seed in the tournament, and Virginia Tech, the eight seed. The winners of those two games will play Friday at 1 p.m. in the semifinals.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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