Jan. 7, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - An ambitious slate that includes all four of last year's final four participants awaits Notre Dame head women's lacrosse coach Christine Halfpenny's squad in 2014 as it vaults into the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Seven of the eight teams in the ACC (including the Irish) qualified for last year's NCAA Tournament. In addition to facing each of the other six, Notre Dame will play three more 2013 NCAA Tournament participants in its non-conference schedule for a total of nine. Eight of those nine teams also finished the 2013 season ranked in the top 14 of the final Top 20 IWLCA coaches' poll.
Notre Dame, itself a 2013 NCAA tournament participant, finishing the season ranked No. 12 in the IWLCA poll, is anxious for the opportunity that lies ahead as the Irish aim for their sixth NCAA tournament bid in the last seven years.
"I'm excited about our 2014 schedule," Halfpenny said. "Not only do we have some new faces on our non-conference schedule but this marks a new era at Notre Dame as we enter the ACC - one of the strongest conferences in the country for women's lacrosse. We feel fortunate and excited to have this opportunity to play several recent national champions throughout the course of the season."
The 2014 Fighting Irish in will play teams that have won each of the last 10 national championships and 20 of the last 23 overall. Not only is Halfpenny undaunted by this immense challenge, she is excited for it.
"Having the opportunity to have a schedule that is littered with top 15 opponents will challenge and test us early so that we'll see where our strengths lie and where we need to improve," Halfpenny said of the high caliber of opponents that her team will face. "Ultimately, the regular season will prepare us for the ACC Tournament and then the NCAA Tournament. I'm confident that the new schedule will pay big dividends for us. Playing top opponents from start to finish and having our conference games beginning in February will challenge us game-in and game-out. My philosophy has always been that in order to be the best you have to play the best. Now with this ACC schedule, we play the best and they play us."
After a February 8 scrimmage against Michigan, the Fighting Irish will open the 2014 campaign on Feb. 12 against Cincinnati. Notre Dame's ACC debut, and the first of nine games against 2013 NCAA tournament participants, will come on Feb. 15, at home against Boston College. Notre Dame will complete a three-game season-opening home stand on Feb. 22 against Stony Brook.
After that contest with the Seawolves, Notre Dame plays five of its next six games on the road, donning its blue uniforms for the first time against defending national champion North Carolina on Feb. 27 at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill. The Irish will continue a three-game road trip on March 2 at Virginia Tech and March 5 at Northwestern. The Wildcats have won seven of the last nine national championships, most recently claiming the crown in 2012. After a home game with future ACC member Louisville on March 8, the Fighting Irish get back onto the road for a March 11 game at Richmond and a March 15 contest against 2013 national runner up Maryland in College Park.
Five of Notre Dame's final regular season games are at home, starting off with a visit by Marquette on March 19. After a March 23 trip to Philadelphia to face Villanova, Notre Dame returns home for three straight games against 2013 NCAA participants Stanford, Virginia and Duke. UVa and Duke were both quarterfinalists nationally a year ago. Notre Dame plays its final true road game of the regular season on April 15 at Ohio State and then comes back to South Bend on April 19 to face 2013 final four participant Syracuse on Senior Day.
The ACC Championship will be contested from April 24-27 at Boston College's Alumni Stadium. The NCAA Tournament begins on May 9 at campus sites to be announced based on seedings and culminates in the 2014 final four, May 23-25, at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium just outside of Baltimore.
Fueling Halfpenny's optimism heading into the spring was a productive fall, which saw her team hold its ground in exhibitions against top teams.
"The offseason went well," the third-year Irish mentor said. "We had an opportunity to play the defending national champions in North Carolina and other strong programs like Navy. In our own backyard, we saw what we call the three best in the Midwest - ourselves, Ohio State and Northwestern - and we really like what we see.
"We're going to be young this year, without a doubt, but we brought a lot of talent to the table with our freshmen and some of them have already proven why they were so highly-touted in high school. So far their transition to the college game has been seamless and they've proven that they'll be ready to fight for some major minutes this season."