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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Undefeated Irish kick off road trip at Louisville

| Wednesday, March 2, 2016

If one could only use a single word to describe No. 4 Notre Dame’s offensive unit, “prolific” might be a good choice. Among teams that have taken the field more than once this season, the Irish lead the country with 16 goals per game and feature the country’s leading goal-scorer, junior attack Cortney Fortunato.

And while Fortunato’s 19 goals would typically solidify her as the key to focus on when playing against Notre Dame (5-0, 1-0 ACC), she’s just one of four attacks on the team with 10 or more goals: Senior Rachel Sexton has 13, while junior Heidi Annaheim and freshman Nikki Ortega each hit double digits Sunday against California.

As the goals have flowed in for Notre Dame this season, Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said her squad hasn’t worried where the scoring has come from, and she said the attacking balance makes her team hard to prepare for.

“Our point-getters — we’re not really focused on [where they’re coming from],” Halfpenny said. “But I know that as a coach when I face an offense that has ‘x’ amount of goal scorers about ‘x’ amount of points, it’s a little more difficult to come up with a game plan, so that’s exciting for us.”

That was in full force Sunday, when the Irish jumped out to a 6-0 lead on California before Fortunato scored her first of three goals. Though Fortunato didn’t tally an early goal, Halfpenny said the junior’s contribution goes far beyond what she does in front of the net.

“Cortney does so much off-ball when you back and reel the tape off,” Halfpenny said. “In those first six goals where she didn’t have a goal … her ability to get the ball back created a number of those on top of the fact that she assisted the first one.”

Junior attack Cortney Fortunato looks to make a pass during Notre Dame’s 21-2 victory over California at Loftus Sports Center on Feb. 28.Chris Collins | The Observer
Junior attack Cortney Fortunato looks to make a pass during Notre Dame’s 21-2 victory over California at Loftus Sports Center on Feb. 28.

Notre Dame embarks Saturday on what rankings say will be its toughest stretch of the season, as a trip to No. 11 Louisville starts a four-game Spring Break slate for the Irish. Halfpenny said the Cardinals, who have also started 5-0 overall and 1-0 in the league, are better than most ACC outsiders consider them.

“This team thrives off of great competition, so it makes us excited,” Halfpenny said. “[It’s] definitely a big challenge ahead in a very, very solid Louisville team in my opinion that’s completely underrated by everybody outside of our conference.”

And as the Irish have raced out to a quick, dominant start, their continued climb in the poll puts a target squarely on their back for most opponents.

“I think that we talk a lot about, ‘We get everybody’s best game,’” Halfpenny said. “And our focus is on us and continuing to add some pieces to each game because every game our opponents will have that opportunity to show a weakness of ours or maybe find an area of ours where we need to get a little bit better. So we’ve been able to go back to the drawing board, fix that, fine tune it, come back out.”

The Louisville contest starts a March slate that will see the Irish play four top-11 opponents in seven games: No. 6 Princeton, No. 7 Virginia and No. 2 Syracuse all visit South Bend in coming weeks.

“We’ll enjoy the 5-0 February but the reality is, March is coming in, going to come in hot here with Louisville, and we’re excited about that,” Halfpenny said.

After Saturday’s trip to Louisville, Notre Dame will travel to Blacksburg, Virginia, for games against Virginia Tech and Liberty on Monday and Tuesday before returning to campus for the showdown with Princeton on March 13.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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