ND Women’s Lacrosse
Irish to play Duke on Senior Day
Alex Carson | Friday, April 15, 2016
Needless to say, No. 10 Notre Dame has plenty of reasons to be motivated heading into Saturday’s home showdown with No. 13 Duke. It’s a return to conference play for the Irish (10-4, 3-3 ACC), where the squad can pick up its best-ever ACC finish; a return to Arlotta Stadium for the first time since March 26; Senior Day for the program and a chance to enact revenge on a Blue Devils (9-5, 4-1) squad that won last season’s contest 17-3.
“This is an opportunity for our team to have the best ACC finish we’ve had yet; I think that’s motivating,” Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “It’s Senior Day; that’s motivating. It’s Duke; that’s motivating. They gave us a healthy handful of humble pie last year when we visited them and that is not lost on my seniors and juniors and sophomores at all.”
Senior Day means it’s an opportunity for Notre Dame to honor its graduating players set to play their penultimate regular-season game at Arlotta Stadium — No. 5 USC visits Monday — with graduate student defender and Tewaaraton Award contender Barbara Sullivan the most notable honoree.
“I think that specifically for me, [Sullivan’s] been synonymous with Notre Dame lacrosse,” Halfpenny said. “She’s been here since I got here — now in her fifth year, she’s really been something else of a player for us. She’s been everything that you want a competitor and a leader to be. While next to her name you see ‘defender,’ she’s just an all-around lacrosse player, all-around athlete.
“I’ve heard some of the most impressive comments about Barbara Sullivan this year from all different kinds of coaches and lax brains … saying she’s one of the best defenders they’ve seen either gender — that was my favorite.”
In addition to the Senior Day festivities and a chance to avenge last year’s lopsided loss to Duke, Saturday’s showdown also gives the Irish a chance to get back in the win column; after starting the season 9-1, Notre Dame is a winner of just one of its last four games, the last outing being a 17-12 loss at No. 16 Northwestern on Sunday. Coming off that loss, Halfpenny said her squad made some changes to its approach in practice this week.
“We’ve gotten a little bit more serious — we’ve held ourselves accountable a little more,” Halfpenny said. “I’m seeing extreme ownership over what’s going on here and I’ve just heard us talking about things a little bit more, strategically and cheering each other on and championing the good things that are going on and just getting back to us.”
However, Halfpenny noted that Notre Dame has still kept things upbeat this week — because that’s the identity of her team.
“We’ve still had fun; this team doesn’t know how to not have fun,” Halfpenny said. “They’re a loose group, they’re a silly group, they have great leadership with that exact personality in their seniors and their juniors.”
Halfpenny said this week was about working on stick work, as well as limiting turnovers and ensuring each player has “higher standard individually,” but noted the Irish aren’t going to be flawless.
“It’s okay to make mistakes and not be perfect, but what it’s not okay to do is lower our standards for ourselves,” Halfpenny said. “ … We’re gonna shoot for perfection, but I never think we’ll get there — I don’t think any program that’s aiming for a championship is perfect.”
And if the Irish are going to be successful Saturday, Halfpenny thinks answering “yes” to four questions would be the key.
“Did we play together? Did we play fast? Did we play aggressive? Did we play passionate today? Alright, things are gonna work out for us,” she said.
While the Irish play their fair share of highly-ranked opponents both inside and out of ACC play, the extra level of importance that comes with a conference game adds motivation for Notre Dame.
“Realistically, having just the opportunity to go out against a top-ranked opponent and knowing it matters is even bigger,” Halfpenny said. “ … [It] absolutely gives us some extra motivation to have extreme ownership and be ultimately focused on our main key to the game, which is limiting our turnovers and really balancing possession.”
While it’s Senior Day for the Irish, the most prolific scorers in the game should both be back when the two teams meet next season — sophomore attack Kyra Harney leads the Blue Devils offense with 38 goals in 14 outings this season, while Irish junior attack Cortney Fortunato’s 44 goals tie her for seventh-most nationally.
If Notre Dame is victorious Saturday, it will mark the first time since joining the league the Irish would finish an ACC slate above .500 — and if results fall their way, they could finish as high as the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament.
First draw between the Irish and Blue Devils is scheduled for noon Saturday at Arlotta Stadium.