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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Irish team that ‘returns incredible strength’ looks to take step forward in 2023

| Wednesday, February 8, 2023

After two years of devastating endings to their seasons, the Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team is back in action Friday, hoping to turn things around for their seniors’ final seasons. Competing in the hardest conference in the country, the Irish have to prove themselves every game, one game at a time. To be ready for play, the Irish changed up some of their coaching staff, welcoming in associate coaches Lauren Brenner (defensive) and Adam Sear (offensive) this year.

“It’s been a really productive year so far, some exciting changes in the off-season have us really dialed in and focused,” said head coach Christine Halfpenny. “Both [Benner and Sear] bring a ton of experience at all levels to us as players and coaches. Both, while their most immediate stops did not come from the ACC, they both played in the ACC and collectively they bring final four experience, ACC championship experience, international experience and professional playing experience with STX. Just so much awesome perspective coming in here and recently being both really comfortable with NCAA tournament play and building programs, so you know that’s been one of the exciting things for our team.” 

Both senior midfielder Kasey Choma and attacker Madison Ahern discussed how great their new coaches are. They said it has helped to have a male offensive coach and they highlighted the importance of stability after three different coaches filled the position in the past four years.

“I think all of them have brought a new perspective to the offense,” Ahern said. “With Adam coming in… he definitely has a different perspective as a guy and brings the men’s game to us. I haven’t been coached by a guy since youth so it’s really exciting to be able to learn from him.”

Coach Halfpenny also gave a nod to their third new coach, Bridget Deehan, who just graduated from the Irish program last year. Deehan played goalie for the Irish in her five years and had a majorly successful career, saving 453 shots with a save percentage of .467.  And while Halfpenny is the only returner on the coaching staff, the Irish return seven seniors and eleven juniors, plus two graduate students.

“Our team returns incredible strength,” Halfpenny said. “You know we really leaned in on all the experience we were returning, the maturity we were returning, the open minds for some of the new ideas of what we were gonna lean into for this season and how we would welcome in the top-ranked freshman class. So, we’ve been working really hard competing every day focusing our culture on how we are going to live on our values which in turn translates to our performance this year.” 

Three of those returning players are Choma, Ahern and senior attacker Jackie Wolak, who Halfpenny called her three-headed monster on the attack.

Choma and Ahern were selected as preseason All-Americans. Choma was named to the first team and Ahern earned honorable mention honors. Although Halfpenny was excited for Choma and Ahern, she also said that she felt Wolak deserved to join the others in receiving credit.

“Kasey and Madison… it’s been great to see the recognition, but the reality is we got one in the shadows,” Halfpenny said. “You know she is probably one of the most underrated attackers in the conference… You can say she is probably one of the most underrated attackers in the country and she lives right here at Notre Dame working with Kasey Choma and Madison.”

Last year, the “three-headed monster” encompassed the team’s top three scorers. Choma led the way with 59 goals, followed closely by Ahern with 57 and Wolak with 40. The three were also playmakers, with Wolak recording a team-high 31 assists on the season, followed by Ahern’s 20.

“They are all three very dynamic players who compete at a very high, high level and skill set and when you look at their numbers they are all within a point of each other,” said Halfpenny. 

These seniors are accompanied by a strong roster behind them. Senior defender Emma Schettig is coming off an injury. Halfpenny is expecting her to take a bigger role in the upcoming season. 

And while the senior class is stacked with talent, it is the Junior class Halfpenny is expecting to step up this year. 

“The junior class right behind them is really something special. You know you think about it, they were in high school and they missed their high school senior seasons due to COVID. And then, they came in as freshmen and we added six fifth years… Upon their junior year commitments no one knew COVID was coming, no one had any idea a pandemic was coming, so they were prepping to fill slots of seven seniors, seven starters, that were supposed to graduate way back in 2020. And when they got here in ‘21 we had those seven kids back. So they had to work while they were waiting this junior class and they learned from amazing all-conference all-American players in the last two classes we graduated,” Halfpenny said.

Despite playing last year, the lack of experience from the junior class remained an obstacle.

“We had a number of [juniors] starting and playing and the story of the team is we had to learn hard lessons when the clock was running,” said Halfpenny.”Just players who hadn’t had that experience for years. Top, top players but they really hadn’t played in that style of competitive game since their junior year of high school.”

But Halfpenny says that they are ready to play now. Following the senior class, these juniors will be crucial to Notre Dame’s tough upcoming season.

“They have outstanding team relationships where their work ethic is something that everyone’s watching and they’re an engine, our juniors are just an engine, they are the first followers of our seniors. They help take the load of leadership off our sensors and you’re gonna see a lot of them,” said Halfpenny.

One of those juniors is midfielder Kelly Denes, who controlled a team-leading 100 draws in the 2022 season. 

“She was a part of our draw unit that beat some of the top draw teams in our country, in that stacked category, when we were at a must-win situation last season.” Halfpenny said.

Coach Halfpenny also alluded to some of her other juniors who could have breakout seasons. That list includes Keelin Schlageter and Kristen Shanahan, the latter of whom is coming off an injury.

With a stacked roster, the Irish are looking to make it far this season. The main goal, as always, is to win it all. But Choma is not looking too far ahead, focusing first on leading the Irish to a winning record. Choma also stated that their goal was to be the best against everyone, but especially fellow midwestern teams. The region has some tough opponents such as No. 5 Northwestern and Michigan.

The first step to completing this goal will take place on Friday when the No. 14 Irish will take on San Diego State. Then, the team will have their first big test on the road against Northwestern. No matter who they are playing, though, Halfpenny said the Irish will take it one game at a time. They will face some of the toughest competitors in the country. But she said the Irish are hopeful their high-caliber team has what it takes to get the job done.

“We are really really excited for what this group is doing and how they’re moving us forward,” said Halfpenny. “It is going to be exciting to see… We’re excited right now for the facts to take place starting on Friday.”

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