ND Women’s Lacrosse
Notre Dame looks forward to season opener against Northwestern
Elizabeth Greason | Thursday, February 2, 2017
The last time Notre Dame and Northwestern met, the Irish were ranked sixth in the country and the teams were battling to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. The Irish came up victorious last May, taking down the Wildcats, 15-3.
No. 8 Notre Dame is looking for the same outcome as it opens its regular season against No. 9 Northwestern (1-0) at home on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Notre Dame has graduated 12 players since the two teams last met, but Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny feels the large cohort of new players on the roster are ready to step into the large shoes the departing seniors left behind.
“We’re really excited to see the campaign start and really excited to test ourselves against one of the country’s best programs in Northwestern,” Halfpenny said. “It’s a battle for the Midwest really and I’m excited to get things underway with this group. I’m excited about some of our rookies shining. We have a really strong group of freshman attackers: [Freshman attack] Jessi Masinko is a high school All-American out of Georgia who should get a good opportunity to make an impact, for example.
“I feel that our midfield could be a strong unit for us, led by All-Americans [senior captains] Casey Pearsall and Alex Dalton. We’ll see some new faces in the midfield too, and it’s going to be really exciting, people like [junior] Molly Cobb, [sophomore] Makenna Pearsall and [freshman] Erin McBride. We’re really deep and it’s going to be really exciting to see how we handle those combinations.”
The Wildcats opened their season with a win over Canisius on Monday. They were paced by redshirt-senior attack Christina Esposito, who scored four goals, and junior attack Corinne Wessels, who picked up a goal and four assists.
The Irish have yet to play a regular season game, but traveled to Florida in January to play an exhibition game against Team USA. Irish senior attack and Tewaaraton Award nominee Cortney Fortunato dressed for Team USA, leading them in points with five. Despite the 22-5 loss to the national team, Halfpenny feels the Irish left Florida with some important takeaways.
“I really like our speed, I’m super excited about the new faces we’ve seen on the field,” Halfpenny said. “But we’re also noticing areas we need to improve on, and clearing the ball was definitely one of those areas. We’re making improvements there every single day in that area and taking care of the ball as well. But I was impressed with our speed, I was impressed with our understanding of our settled defense, our slide packages. I was excited about our will to compete, our persistence, our resilience and our ability to move onto the next play and stay really focused and determined, and I was thrilled with our goalie play from [sophomore] Sam Giacalone. It was a great way to start the season, playing at that kind of pace, challenging everywhere possible, building those strengths we were trying to develop.”
While the entire team has high expectations and hopes to build on last season’s quarterfinal loss to North Carolina, who ultimately won the NCAA title, Halfpenny is looking to her seniors to lead by example on and off the field to get them there.
“I’m really excited about our leadership,” Halfpenny said. “Our entire senior class was remarkable in Florida. It’s great to know we have leaders in every single aspect of the game — on offense we have multiple leaders, in midfield we have multiple leaders and on defense we have multiple leaders. It’s great to see the passion they have, not just for their team but for leading at being at the University of Notre Dame.”
Opening the season against a highly ranked opponent in Northwestern could be a deterrent for some programs. However, Halfpenny is taking the challenge in stride and is excited to see what the two teams will bring to the table.
“We’re not really focusing on media rankings for ourselves or our opponents,” Halfpenny said. “We’re just focused on being the best team we can be regardless of who we’re playing because, in reality, Notre Dame always gets their opponents’ bests.”
The Irish face off against Northwestern on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Loftus Sports Center.