March 8, 2016
BLACKSBURG, Va. -
By Leigh Torbin
Grace Muller has not started a game in 2016 for the No. 6 Notre Dame women's lacrosse team but she is one of four members of the squad with a point in each of its seven games. Exemplifying the depth which the Irish will call upon while playing on consecutive regular-season days for the first time since 2003, Muller matched her career high with four goals and set a career-high with five points to help Notre Dame win the front end of its mid-week tandem, dropping Virginia Tech, 19-10, on Tuesday afternoon in Blacksburg.
The Irish bench caused nine turnovers, gathered 13 ground balls, controlled six draws and allowed the Notre Dame starters a needed respite as the Irish prepare for a quick turnaround before facing Liberty on Wednesday afternoon at the Hokies' Thompson Field.
In addition to Muller, Rachel Sexton also scored a quartet of goals, all of them coming in the second half, while Casey Pearsall netted a hat trick to accompany six draw controls. Cortney Fortunato led the Irish with six points on two goals and four assists.
On International Women's Day, it was the Irish women who came out on top with their depth providing a crucial link. Muller did not miss the connection.
"My true motivation for today's performance was international women's day and the amazing women on this team," she said referring to her many teammates who contributed to the second ACC win of 2016 for the Irish.
The Irish women would outshoot the Hokies 39-13 on this day, hold decisive margins in ground balls (27-17), draw controls (19-11) and turnovers (16-25), and utilize a 9-2 run to open the second half in ensuring command of the contest. In all 10 players for Notre Dame would record a point including the first goal of the season by Emma Claire Fontenot and the first point of the season - an assist - for Hannah Hartman.
Hartman perhaps typified the vigor Notre Dame's bench brought to the field. Playing about 10 minutes to close out the contest, Hartman caused three turnovers, got two ground balls and created through hard work the goal that perhaps meant the most to her teammates. With just over 8:00 left in the game, Hokie goalie Hannah Sieger held the ball outside of her crease. Hartman attacked and created a turnover. After Sieger fouled Hartman behind the net, the restart saw Stephanie Toy at the top of the crease without a defender for yards as the Hokies had advanced upfield for a clearance attempt disrupted by Hartman. Hartman fed Toy for the empty net goal which made it 18-8 and, in turn, fed her teammates. For the third time in seven games this year, the Irish reached the 18-goal total that earns the team a trip to the ice cream shop.
In addition to Muller, Hartman and Fontenot, Katherine McManus also stood out while coming off of the bench, causing four turnovers and collecting three ground balls. Freshman Jenn Casadonte caused a turnover, controlled a draw and had three ground balls. Freshman Hannah Proctor got the first two ground balls of her career. Every woman available to head coach Christine Halfpenny saw action in the victory.
The first half, while controlled by the Irish as indicated by a 19-6 edge in shots, did not produce a comfortable advantage on the scoreboard. Notre Dame led just 7-5 at halftime. Notre Dame's top guns did their thing early in the final frame to put the game out of reach and allow the reserves to play as much as they did.
Sexton opened the half's scoring on a free position goal 2:32 into the stanza. Notre Dame needed just 11 seconds to score again as Heidi Annaheim controlled the draw and passed the ball off to Muller who fed Sexton for another tally. Just over two minutes later, Barbara Sullivan took a charge on defense (one of two caused turnovers on the day) and, as the Irish rushed up field, Annaheim found Fortunato for a goal making it 10-5 just 5:07 into the final half.
"We came out much more focused than we were before," Muller said of how the team came out after halftime. "Casey Pearsall and Cortney led that - especially on the offensive end. We came out realizing that this wasn't a game we were going to lose by playing up to our standards and our expectations."
"We took pride in our fundamentals," Sexton said concisely.
With the Hokie hurdle cleared, the Irish can turn their attention to facing the Lady Flames of Liberty at 3 p.m. on Wednesday in the second half of the Blacksburg back-to-back scheduling.
"Playing back-to-back games is something we've almost never done before," Muller said. "It's exciting that we could end today on such a positive note and carry that momentum into tomorrow. Liberty's not an easy team so tomorrow we're going to have to play to our standard again and showcase all the depth that we do have on the team."
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.