March 19, 2016
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -
By Leigh Torbin
For a tight-knit squad that has achieved much of its 2016 success through togetherness, the No. 5 Notre Dame women's lacrosse team has been at its best when letting its selfish side out. The Irish always want to have the ball. The Irish can't stand to be without the ball. Once again on Saturday, the Irish did a lousy job of sharing the ball with its opposition, causing 20 turnovers in a 16-4 demolition of No. 9 Virginia at Arlotta Stadium.
The Irish led the nation entering today by causing 15.22 turnovers per game when the national median is about eight per game. Today's performance joins Virginia Tech (March 8) as Notre Dame's second 20-caused turnover showing of the season. The nation's other 109 Division I teams have combined for just three 20-caused turnover games in 2016.
Notre Dame is vying to lead its league in caused turnovers for the fourth straight year and finish in the national top 10 in caused turnovers for the fifth straight year - all under fifth-year head coach Christine Halfpenny.
The extra possessions helped the Irish to a 43-12 advantage in shots in a contest where Notre Dame would score 12 of the final 13 goals to run free to its third-straight victory over Virginia.
Defender Brie Custis caused a career high five turnovers today against the Cavaliers. Tewaaraton Award finalist on defense and ACC caused turnovers leader Barbara Sullivan caused four more. Irish goalkeeper Samantha Giacolone left her crease to intercept a pair of passes.
What sets the Irish apart, however, is the pressure its attackers exert. Cortney Fortunato fourth in the ACC entering today, tied her career high with four caused turnovers. Rachel Sexton also tied her career high with two caused turnovers. If an Irish shot is saved, and Virginia's Rachel Vander Kolk stopped 15 today, it merely invigorates Notre Dame to not let that ball leave its offensive zone.
"We want the ball back," said senior attacker Kiera McMullan after setting career highs with both four assists and six points on Saturday. "We have each other's back so if somebody makes a mistake, everyone puts so much energy into getting the ball back and having their (teammate's) back. We're hustling to get the ball back.
"(Causing turnovers) starts with our offense but goes all the way down to our defense. All over the field it's a relentless will to win kind of attitude in our ride. It was a huge key to our success today."
"I'm so proud of them," Halfpenny said of her team. "When we have each other's backs like we had today, it builds a sense of confidence. It allows us to play that style where we can push out more. It speaks to the team and their preparation coming into the season. They are at a whole other level of athleticism due to our speed and strength program. Then, we take advantage of it. It's not just about landing a stick on a stick, it's about positioning. We are in position. Our defensive coach Katie (Powell) does a tremendous job with that."
Notre Dame had a non-lacrosse based key to its success today as well, the emotions of playing in the team's first Friends of Victoria Game. Honoring the memory of senior defender Katherine McManus sister Victoria who was killed by her ex-boyfriend almost two years ago, Notre Dame donned green uniforms and did its part to raise awareness for relationship violence. Notre Dame's greeNDot program participated in the event as did the One Love Foundation, dedicated to preserving the memory of former Virginia women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love whose life was also taken prematurely in an episode of relationship violence.
During the day, Notre Dame raised funds for a scholarship fund created in Victoria's memory by the McManus family. The No. 2 Irish men's lacrosse team also joined in the event as they downed Virginia, 8-7 in overtime, in the second game of an Irish-Cavaliers doubleheader.
"It was a huge team win but having the first FOV Game is an awesome way to show our love for the McManus family," McMullan said. "We were playing for a much bigger reason today than any other home game."
The Cavaliers would score the game's first goal, hold a 2-1 lead and trail just 4-3 with 10 minutes left in the first half. Notre Dame began to exert itself with an unassisted McMullan goal 8:43 before intermission. McMullan assisted on each of the next three goals in the game as Notre Dame ran its lead to 8-3 on a Sexton tally 9.6 seconds before halftime.
Any hopes the Hoos held of coming back after intermission were dashed quickly. All-American midfielder Alex Dalton controlled the opening draw, sprinted downfield and scored unassisted just 12 seconds into the second half. Notre Dame outscored Virginia 8-1 in the second half to cruise to the ACC win.
Evidence of both the defensive discipline of the Irish and the lack of Virginia offensive pressure, the Cavaliers did not attempt a single free position shot in the game. Notre Dame, meanwhile, converted on three of its seven. The Irish held a 12-10 edge in draw controls, a 29-20 advantage on ground balls and forced seven failed Cavalier clears. The storyline though came from the 29 Virginia turnovers on the day, 20 of which came directly from Irish defensive pressure.
Notre Dame's schedule does not let up from here. The Irish will play its third consecutive top 10 team on Saturday when No. 3 Syracuse heads to Arlotta Stadium for a noon game that will be shown live on ESPN3.
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.