Feb. 4, 2017
By Megan Golden
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- The No. 8 University of Notre Dame women's lacrosse team opens its regular season against Midwest rival No. 9-ranked Northwestern at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday at Loftus Sports Center.
Two-hundred and thirty-eight days have passed since Notre Dame’s 15-3 postseason victory over the Wildcats in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The back-to-back meetings at Notre Dame will mark the first time the teams have squared off in South Bend in consecutive matchups.
“When it’s Northwestern, it’s an awesome rivalry game. I would hands down say that we have a mutual respect for what each other are trying to do,” Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “We play the game well. We play it smart. We play it hard. Both of us. We are both in relentless pursuit of the ball.
“The physical game that Northwestern brings is awesome and I love it because it tests us. We are going to have to be prepared for that.”
WHAT: No. 9 Northwestern vs. No. 8 Notre Dame
WHEN: Sunday, February 5, 2017 at 1 p.m. ET
WHERE: Loftus Sports Center (Notre Dame, Ind.)
LIVESTREAM: ACC Network Extra/WatchESPN
The Irish are coming off of their exhibition game versus Team USA and senior Cortney Fortunato and are thrilled to have Fortunato back on their own sideline. Notre Dame may have dropped the contest 22-5, but Halfpenny is confident the team learned from the experience and improved tremendously over the past few weeks.
“We only had two full practices before we played them, but the beauty was that it exposed a lot of great things,” she said. “What we felt that we had a good base with we were able to build off of over the past two weeks, specifically some subtle defensive sets and our 1 vs. 1’s. Offensively we didn’t get to see that much of who we are, but what we did see was great speed, great competition and we actually got into our sets.”
Playing against the most talented team in the country provided the Irish with an opportunity to learn and improve in the areas they found to be rusty in January. In particular, Notre Dame has emphasized the importance of maintaining possession -- winning draws, collecting ground balls and clearing the ball successfully.
The Irish will be missing some familiar faces due to injury, but senior co-captain Katherine Eilers said her teammates have risen to the occasion and are ready to step up.
“Everyone that has had an opportunity has stepped up,” she said. “There’s a lot of injuries — upperclassmen, especially — and there’s been no drop off.”
Specifically, Eilers said freshman Savannah Buchanan has impressed her in practice.
“She’s played very old, very experienced and wise,” Eilers said. “She plays with a composure that not many freshmen play with.”
Last Time They Played
Notre Dame defeated Northwestern, 15-3, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats scored just three goals, marking their fewest goals scored since a 14-3 loss versus Syracuse on May 3, 2003.
The Wildcats turned the ball over 21 times in the game. Each of Northwestern’s last three contests with at least 20 turnovers have come against the Irish.
Notre Dame owns a 5-0 record in season openers under Halfpenny and is 18-2 all-time in the first game of the season.
The game marks just the fifth season opener held at Notre Dame and the fifth time the Irish have started the season against a ranked opponent.
Sunday’s game will be broadcast live on ACC Network Extra/WatchESPN. For a closer, behind-the-scenes look at the Irish women’s lacrosse team, follow @NDWomensLax on Twitter.
Megan Golden, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since August of 2016. In her role, she coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women's lacrosse and cross country/track and field programs. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Golden is a 2014 graduate of Saint Mary's College and former Irish women’s basketball manager. Prior to arriving at Notre Dame, she worked in public relations with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.