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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Lynch provides veteran leadership as Irish chase national title

| Tuesday, February 23, 2021

“Last year was no one-hit wonder, nor will 2021 be. There’s been a lot of groundwork done for this team to be in the conversation of a national contender,” Notre Dame head women’s lacrosse coach Christine Halfpenny recently said in a preseason interview with U.S. Lacrosse Magazine.

Halfpenny, now in her 10th season as head coach, believes Notre Dame is poised for a breakthrough and ready to compete for a national championship.

That breakthrough nearly came in 2020, as prior to last season’s cancellation, the Irish held a unanimous No. 2 ranking after starting the season off 7-0 with wins against No. 3 Northwestern, No. 22 Duke and No. 18 Boston College. During the undefeated streak, Notre Dame was one of four teams ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense and offense, and looked like a team that had all of the pieces — veteran leadership coupled with talented youth — necessary for a title run.

With that being said, the season abruptly ended just days before the highly anticipated bout between No. 1 North Carolina and the No. 2 Irish, a game that would have proved to those still doubtful whether or not Notre Dame was a legitimate national title contender. Thus, the unfinished season left some unanswered questions of the Irish and their true potential.

For answers, you need not look further than the team’s 2021 roster. This year, Notre Dame returned 11 of 12 starters from a season ago, and 21 total upperclassmen to go along with 12 new freshmen from the No. 5 ranked recruiting class in the nation. Yet, what’s most revealing about this team and their aspirations is the fact that seven of the 41 total players came back to play as graduate students. So, while they may not have convinced the larger landscape of women’s college lacrosse that they are for real, the Irish evidently have an unwavering belief in themselves that has persisted in spite of chaotic outside influences.

Observer File Photo
Irish graduate student attack Samantha Lynch looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 16-13 win over Ohio State on March 7, 2017, at Arlotta Stadium.

This conviction is the reason why graduate student Samantha Lynch, the oldest player on Coach Halfpenny’s roster, came back for a sixth season in 2021. Lynch, a native of Huntington, N.Y., who committed to Notre Dame as a sophomore in high school, has been present for much of the growth of the program under Halfpenny. In Lynch’s freshman season, the Irish made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, the furthest in program history up until that point and since. Two seasons later, Lynch got injured against Boston College in the first game of the season and missed her entire junior season. That year, in 2018, Notre Dame missed the tournament for the first and only time under Halfpenny. In effect, Lynch has been a part of some of the best and worst moments in Irish women’s lacrosse recent history.

The 2018 injury is what prompted Lynch to take her fifth-year graduate season last season, but when the season got shut down a year ago, Lynch believed her time was up.

“At first, I didn’t think I was going to make it back for another year, I just thought my time was up and maybe it was someone else’s turn,” she said. “But after talking to the coaching staff and a lot of the other girls on the team and hearing that they were hoping I was going to come back, they wanted me to be back and they really felt strongly about what the team could do again this year, that kind of helped me make my decision. I’m really happy to be back for another year. I wouldn’t have thought about this three years ago, but everything happens for a reason, and I’m glad to be in the position I’m in.”

The 2021 season is now officially underway, and in their season-opening 19-5 victory over visiting Vanderbilt, Notre Dame looked more like a team in midseason form than one that hadn’t played a game in 11 months. Lynch was the player of the game for Notre Dame, netting five goals and dishing out two assists en route to ACC Offensive Player of the Week honors. It was the fourth five-plus goal performance of Lynch’s 110-goal career over six seasons, and it highlighted exactly why Lynch’s teammates and coaches all wanted her back after last season. Seven total points also ties a career high.

The Long Island native has been a part of six different Irish teams, but this one already stands alone for reasons beyond COVID-19.

“This year you go into the locker room, and during the little time we can spend together in the locker room every day, there’s just energy just bouncing off the walls. The girls are so excited to go to practice every day,” Lynch said. “There’s just so much chemistry off the field between the freshmen who are 18 to our grad students who are 23 years old, and I think that’s a really great sign that our goal of winning the national championship this year definitely could be a reality if we just stay the path and take it one day at a time.”

Lynch, who was a freshman when former three-time All-American defender and three-time team captain Barbara Sullivan led Notre Dame to the Elite Eight as a graduate student, has tried to model her approach as a captain and veteran leader of the team after Sullivan, whom she describes as “one of the best leaders in the program that [she’s] ever seen or ever come across.”

She may not be one of the seven Irish who were named Preseason All-Americans, or one of the five who were Preseason All-ACC selections, the Vanderbilt game shows Lynch is an integral part of the squad. Notre Dame is a team that in recent years has cultivated a winning culture on and off the field, an insatiable desire to be the best. Samantha Lynch has played an integral role in such development.

This season will be Lynch’s last, regardless of the circumstances, as the two-time captain now looks forward to attending medical school next fall back where it all started: in Long Island. She remains hopeful about the possibility of lacrosse playing a role in her future beyond Notre Dame in terms of coaching or sports medicine, but, for now, she is most concerned with trying to win Notre Dame’s first ever women’s lacrosse national championship.

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