Feb. 21, 2016
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -
By Leigh Torbin
The No. 8 Notre Dame women's lacrosse team stands poised to take the proverbial next step forward in 2016 with its attitude as much as its collective athletic talent. All week long, head coach Christine Halfpenny could see that her team was honed in on Sunday's ACC opener against No. 9 Boston College.
So, when the Irish trailed 2-1 early and held just a 4-2 lead with just over a minute to go in the first half, it came joyously but not as a true surprise when Notre Dame shifted into another gear. The Irish (3-0, 1-0 ACC) rattled off 10 consecutive goals to cruise to a 14-4 win over the Eagles (2-1, 0-1).
Five Irish players tallied at least two goals, led by Cortney Fortunato's five, while freshman goalie Samantha Giacolone kept the Eagles at bay offensively, making 13 saves -- the most by an Irish netminder since Ellie Hilling had 14 against Georgetown on April 14, 2013.
"I am thrilled and so proud of my team's efforts," Halfpenny said. "Our entire team had a great week of preparation. We keep talking about how great weeks of preparation translate to great game days. We talk a lot about having our style of play. We proved ourselves in so many areas today, especially with our determination and our desire to play our brand for 60 minutes. The really neat thing was to find that second gear -- that second wind -- in the second half to be able to match the first half scoring output, fueled by our defensive efforts."
In addition to Fortunato's seven points (five goals and two assists), Heidi Annaheim had a hat trick for Notre Dame, plus two assists, for five points. Rachel Sexton (two goals and two assists) enjoyed a four-point game while freshman Nikki Ortega scored twice and Casey Pearsall chipped in three points on a goal and two assists.
Caused turnovers is a calling card for the Irish and Notre Dame forced 15 of BC's 19 turnovers on Sunday, led by senior Brie Custis with four as she continues her smooth transition to a full-time defensive role. Defensive stalwart Barbara Sullivan caused a pair of turnovers, grabbed three ground balls and controlled five draws while doing her part to limit BC to just four goals.
BC held a 2-1 lead after just 3:25 of play as the Eagles sandwiched a pair of free position goals around Sexton's first goal of the day. Sexton set up Fortunato twice while Pearsall scored off of a Fortunato feed at 18:13 to put Notre Dame up 4-2. The teams settled into back-and-forth yet scoreless action for 17 minutes before a momentum-seizing Irish spurt just before halftime made it 7-2 and secured control of the contest.
Annaheim rolled to the net for an unassisted strike with 1:01 to play before halftime. She converted again off of a Pearsall feed with 26 seconds to play before intermission, making it 6-2. The Irish dropped a hammer 12 seconds later. Sullivan controlled the draw, threw it up field to Pearsall who fed Muller for a goal, sending the teams to the break looking at a 7-2 score in favor of Notre Dame.
The Irish scored each of the second half's first four goals, and seven of the first eight overall, to squash any chance of an Eagle comeback. After Fortunato completed her third hat trick in three games this year at 24:24 on a free position shot, Ortega scored goals just 12 seconds apart to put Notre Dame up 10-2. An unassisted Annaheim strike, her third tally of the game, gave the Irish a 13-3 edge with 11:32 remaining and invoked the running clock.
Each team would score once more before the final horn sounded on a 14-4 victory which satisfied the Irish coach as her team begins a march through an ACC where six teams are ranked in the top 11 nationally.
"That's the standard we'd like to play to," a jubilant Halfpenny said. "We've talked about not worrying about expectations this season. We're talking about playing to our standard -- how we train in practice and wanting to put that performance on the field and showcasing that on game day.
"It's a standard we want to continue to play to. The girls are setting the bar where they want to play. I'm excited about it. They're keeping the focus on ourselves and with each other. Our culture is going to win here, every single time. Our belief is through the roof. We're playing our style. We're focused on us. We're positive. I'm excited about that. When things didn't go our way, the recovery was outstanding and that's something that we've been celebrating a lot."
Things did not go well early today for Notre Dame but the team settled in and rolled over the Eagles. Much of that came from the solid base to the team's trademarked aggressive defense provided by its freshman goalie. Giacolone made eight saves before halftime. In addition to her 13 saves on Sunday, she was credited with three ground balls and demonstrated her passing ability to get the Irish midfielders working in transition.
"Today she had a couple of those momentum (swinging) one-on-none saves in the second half and that's all you can ask from your goalie. She did a great job handling the ball and making decisions in the clear."
Notre Dame breaks from conference play next weekend, playing host to Colorado at 7 p.m. on Friday night and California at noon on Sunday, Feb. 28.
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women's lacrosse team while serving as the football publicity team's top lieutenant. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.