May 15, 2016
By Leigh Torbin
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Sunday morning, thousands of Notre Dame students became Notre Dame alumni as they received their degrees. Hours later, 11 senior student-athletes and one graduate student on Notre Dame's women's lacrosse team ensured that their time at Notre Dame will continue as the Irish matriculated onto the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 2009.
The sixth-seeded Irish (14-6) outshot Northwestern 21-5 in the first half and out scored the Wildcats 8-0 in the second half en rote to a 15-3 demolition of one of the sport's standard-bearers in an NCAA second round matchup at Arlotta Stadium.
Cortney Fortunato and Grace Muller both scored four goals to pace the Irish offense while the Notre Dame defense caused 16 turnovers (led by three apiece from Barbara Sullivan and Brie Custis) and held the Wildcats to a season-low 16 shots.
"It's a great program win and all the credit goes to the players," Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. "They've been focused on this, especially the senior class. Since the senior class came here as freshman, they've been focused on advancing to at least the quarterfinals and they've worked so hard. I can't be more proud of them. They had an outstanding week of preparation and this outcome is no surprise to the people in this locker room after seeing the way they worked all week."
By scoring on just three goals it is the best scoring defensive performance against Northwestern since May 3, 2003, when Syracuse downed the Wildcats, 14-3, prior to the purple-clad northsiders claiming their seven national titles in eight years. The 12-goal defeat matches the worst in Northwestern's lengthy NCAA Championship history. The scope of the victory is only enhanced by the foe it came against as the Irish improved to 6-1 all-time in home NCAA play.
"Our program has great respect for Northwestern and everything they've done in the past," Halfpenny said. "That's what's exciting. While they have grown this sport. It is also something that has fueled and motivated our program here at Notre Dame. We are in the Midwest as well. We are in the best conference in the country. We've been right there. Today, our program showcased what it means to be the No. 6-seed. They feel how important that top-six seed is and they took advantage of the opportunity."
Notre Dame controlled the game on Sunday from start to finish, opening the game on a 4-0 run and closing it on a 9-0 run which was punctuated by seven second half saves from goalkeeper Samantha Giacolone.
Sullivan, now a Tewaaraton Award finalist for the second consecutive year, controlled five draws and collected three ground balls to accompany her three turnovers. She also stood front-and0center in an Irish defense that held an opponent to less than five goals for the school-record eighth time this year.
The win, Notre Dame's 14th of the year, moves the 2016 team into sole possession of third place as the winningest team in school history. The Irish will aim to tie the second place mark of 15 wins by the 2006 team at 1 p.m. on Saturday when the Irish travel to Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, N.C. to face third-seeded North Carolina in the NCAA quarterfinals.
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.