Feb. 27, 2014
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - For a 26-minute stretch, the No. 12 Notre Dame women's lacrosse team stood toe-to-toe with No. 1 North Carolina, matching the defending national champions on the scoreboard 7-7. Unfortunately for the Irish (2-2, 0-2 ACC), the Tar Heels (5-0, 1-0) dominated the opening and closing stretches of the contest to record a 19-9 win at Fetzer Field on Thursday night.
Amongst the highlights on the Irish side of the box score, Barbara Sullivan controlled seven draws against one of the country's top draw control teams. Margaret Smith caused four turnovers defensively, got four ground balls and controlled a pair of draws. Brie Custis scored once, had four ground balls, two draw controls and two caused turnovers. Hannah Hartman and Cortney Fortunato each scored a pair of goals to lead Notre Dame's scoring. Heidi Annaheim and Kiera McMullan each had a goal and an assist for the Irish in the game. Notre Dame's nine goals are the most that UNC has allowed this year.
However, four different UNC players netted at least a hat trick on the night, led by Carly Reed's five goals. Ultimately, 19 turnovers proved costly for Notre Dame as did the transition opportunities the turnovers created. The Irish were just 9-for-16 in clears while UNC was 15-for-17 and the end result was a 10 goal loss, matching the largest margin of defeat for Notre Dame since a 19-7 loss to No. 2 Northwestern in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
"Out of the gates, both teams seemed shaky but Carolina got on the board first and gained momentum," Notre Dame head coach Christine Halfpenny said. "At the end of the game, we had some things that we can build on. Our youth continues to impress us. Our strong players on the draw in Barbara Sullivan and on defense in Margaret Smith get us excited about what we're going to see this season.
"However, they have to learn a tough lesson regarding turnovers. It's difficult to win games with 19 turnovers. We can't panic. We have to learn to play with poise, confidence and to quickly overcome the small mistakes so they don't lead to big ones."
The Tar Heels scored each of the first five goals but the Irish showed plenty of resilient fight in playing an even second half of the opening stanza, recording a 4-4 tie over the final 18 minutes. McMullan snapped UNC's game-opening run with a goal set up by Stephanie Toy with 14:19 left in the half. UNC extended its lead to 7-1, but the Irish scored three of the next four goals to cut their deficit to just four goals at 8-4. Brie Custis scored her first goal of the year at 11:05 while Hartman scored from Annaheim at 4:18 and Casey Pearsall tallied unassisted with 1:06 remaining before intermission. Typical of their effort all night, however, the Tar Heels scored with just an unlucky 13 seconds left to take a 9-4 lead into the locker rooms.
After UNC extended its lead to 11-4 just two minutes into the second half, Notre Dame again responded with a three-out-of-four goal spurt to cut the deficit to just five goals at 12-7. Fortunato got her first goal of the night to start the run at the 27:16 mark. Hartman got her second of the night from Kaitlyn Brosco at 24:42 and Fortunato ripped a bullet into the top corner on a free position at 22:34.
The next five goals would all come from the Tar Heels as they demonstrated the mettle that allowed the team to earn its lofty ranking. The Irish were not quite willing to call it a night, however, matching goals with UNC over the final 6:00. Annaheim scored at 5:44 and senior captain Molly Shawhan found the back of the net on a scrappy goal with one second remaining in the contest, set up by McMullan.
"I am proud of my team that in the final eight minutes, we still saw a fight," Halfpenny said. "No matter how the goal went in at the end, we had a goal at the end and I think that shows how our youth will continue to grow throughout the course of the season."
The Irish will next get a chance to show that fighting spirit on Sunday when the team heads up I-81 to face Virginia Tech at noon in Blacksburg.