March 9, 2016
BLACKSBURG, Va. -
By Leigh Torbin
The historic feats achieved by the No. 6 Notre Dame women's lacrosse team in Wednesday's 25-2 extinguishing of the Lady Flames from Liberty are numerous.
The 25 goals scored by the Irish tied a school record set against Cincinnati in 2014. The 22 draw controls (including all 14 of the second half's draws) broke the previous school record of 21 that had stood since 2006. The 48 shots launched by the Irish stands one shy of matching the school record. The 23-goal margin of victory is second in school history. Individually, with her five caused turnovers, graduate student Barbara Sullivan broke the school's career record of 122 held by Margaret Smith (2011-14).
Notre Dame scored at least 18 goals for the fourth time in its first eight contests this year. Only the 2001 and 2009 teams have ever had more than four 18-goal games in an entire season.
There may not have been 200 noteworthy factoids to emerge from the contest but the crescendo came down to the number 200. The victory marked the 200th win since the Notre Dame program's inception in 1997.
"It speaks volumes back to the very start of this program laying the ground work to be one of the best teams in the country, up to today where this team has established itself as a consistent top 10 team and national championship contender," Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said of the milestone. "It is a testament to all of the hard work of those who came before us and all of the hard work that's going into this year to bring us to national prominence."
Notre Dame's depth will help it continue to grow this prominence in 2016. The Irish saw 15 players record at least one point in the win and four claim a hat trick as Cortney Fortunato scored five times, Nikki Ortega four, Grace Muller three and Rachel Sexton three. The Irish saw 15 players collect a ground ball and 13 control one of those school record 22 draws.
The final score might have been far more lopsided had it not been for the noble efforts of a besieged Katherine Widrick in the Lady Flames' goal. Widrick had nine first half saves while the Irish peppered Liberty's net with 28 shots, scoring each of the game's first 12 goals. The Irish attacked unabated. Notre Dame's reserves did not stop scoring until Hannah Hartman's tally just eight seconds before the final horn accounted for the 25-2 final score.
Only Notre Dame's ninth three-year captain of any sport, Sullivan played a central role in keeping the game played predominantly on Liberty's defensive side of the field. The Garden City, New York native combined her five caused turnovers (giving her 127 at Notre Dame) with four draw controls, four ground balls, and her first goal since 2013, set up deftly by Heidi Annaheim. Passing Smith, her longtime teammate, is not an insignificant event for the graduate student.
"Marge is one of my favorite people in the world," Sullivan said of the current Stetson University assistant coach. "I've learned so much from her. She's one of my mentors in this game. She's only a year older than me but I can't put into words how much she means to me."
While Smith would be proud of Sullivan's defensive acumen, the 2014 team captain would likely give an even bigger salute to Sullivan for her leadership in the wake of the team's first loss of the year, a 10-9 double overtime heartbreaker on Saturday at current No. 5 Louisville. The Irish left the loss to the Cardinals tucked away with their dirty towels at the Louisville Airport Crowne Plaza and recharged on a lengthy but often-boisterous bus ride through Kentucky and West Virginia on Sunday to Blacksburg.
The end result was two comfortable wins, a 19-10 victory over Virginia Tech on Tuesday and todays 25-2 dousing of the Lady Flames. The latter victory left Sullivan feeling proud of what her team accomplished in Blacksburg.
"It was a culmination of our trip and learning from the loss on Saturday," she said. "We stayed together. We stayed focused on what our goals are and we rebounded."
Playing regular season games on consecutive days for the first time since facing Northwestern and Rutgers back-to-back in 2003, Halfpenny knew this weekend would be a test physically. The adversity of mentally getting over Saturday's loss to Louisville amplified the task, but the Irish overcame it.
"Our schedule has a lot of challenges in it.," Halfpenny said in the shadow of Lane Stadium where the 2016 ACC Championships will be contested next month. "This was a challenge with back to back games. That was an area where we came up against in the ACC tournament last year and an area where we need to improve in 2016 to realize or goals. I'm proud of our recovery and rebound from Saturday. We learned a lot about ourselves with two back-to-back outstanding efforts."
Greeted at the bus outside the Lane Stadium locker rooms by homemade crafty goodie bags from Hannah Proctor's mother, Elizabeth, and Mellow Mushroom pizzas, the Irish got back on the bus to head to the airport for their flight back to Chicago and then a return to their campus by the lake. Notre Dame's spring break odyssey hit a historic high note on Wednesday, but the odyssey still rolls on as No. 7 Princeton (4-0) visits Arlotta Stadium at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
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.