Feb. 12, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The sun has arisen on a day that Allie Murray has long awaited, her debut as the starting goalkeeper for the No. 11 Notre Dame women's lacrosse team. As the Fighting Irish open their 2014 season at 5 p.m. against Cincinnati in the Loftus Sports Center, the junior will find herself as Notre Dame's primary option in the crease at the core of one of the nation's top defensive units.
Raised west of Philadelphia in Exton, Murray arrived in South Bend two years ago and has patiently waited her turn to start in net, which has finally arrived after the graduation of four-year starter Ellie Hilling.
A veteran of the gold medal-winning USA Under-19 national team from the 2011 Women's Lacrosse World Championships in Germany, the Irish are excited to have Murray ready to assume a role as the team's final line of defense.
"We couldn't be more excited for Allie heading into her junior season," head coach Christine Halfpenny said. "There's been high anticipation to see her get her career as our starting goalkeeper started.
"Allie has developed her game from top to bottom starting with her basic saves and then extending out to help in the clear. She's developed her game and the credit goes to Allie. She's put so much time in."
Murray came to Notre Dame after a standout career at Downington East High School but saw little playing time in the 2012 and 2013 seasons behind first-team All-BIG EAST goalie Hilling and Adele Bruggeman, both of whom graduated this past May.
Murray played in five games as a freshman, making her only previous career start in an 18-5 win over Villanova when Hilling was ill. Murray played three times in 2013 but one of her appearances was crucial. Murray came off of the bench at Louisville with the Irish trailing and helped hold the Cardinals at bay while Notre Dame rallied back for a 16-15 double overtime victory.
"It's very exciting to be playing with my friends and teammates who I've been training with for years," Murray said humbly. "Both Ellie and Adele changed me as a person. In lacrosse, they gave me an idea of who I want to be in goal, how to treat my defenders and act as a whole. I'm always aware of whatever Ellie or Adele said and also about listening to Margaret (Smith) and everyone on defense to stay connected with them. That has made the transition a lot easier for me."
That defense is one thing that should help ease Murray's transition to starter. Coach Halfpenny's ferociously aggressive style, unrelenting and unafraid to double team, forced many issues for Notre Dame's 2013 foes before a shot could even got to the goal. Notre Dame ranked amongst the national elite last spring in ground balls and caused turnovers.
The core of that defensive unit returns intact, led by first-team preseason All-America pick Barbara Sullivan and Smith, herself a third-team preseason All-America selection. The unit and its goalkeeper are meshing well.
"Even if I'm slightly off, Margaret will turn around and say `Allie, do this' or to focus a little bit more on something," Murray said. "They're constantly reminding me of things I should be doing and, in return, I remind them. We have a really tight defensive unit on and off the field. That's important."
Halfpenny has nothing but praise for how Murray has been adjusting both over her first two years of time in South Bend and also in her development since Hilling and Bruggeman's graduations.
"When we've been working on her game this season, she's been able to work hard, push herself and sweat a ton but then come back, think through things and have well thought out questions that are allowing her to develop into our starting goalkeeper," the third-year coach said of her netminder. "We want her to improve and work within our aggressive defense, but to be herself. She was brought here for a reason and we want her to be excited to now exploit all of her strengths."
Halfpenny isn't putting a significant amount of undue pressure on Murray either, concentrating on just allowing the junior to do what she does quite well.
"We just want Allie to be Allie," Halfpenny said. "We don't want her to try and step in and play a style that our graduated goalies played. She's unique in what she brings to the table. We want her to focus on her strengths, which are her athletic ability, her high IQ, her intensity and her drive in big game situations. Time and time again she has shown us that she can step up to that challenge.
"She's really athletic. She is an incredibly intelligent player. She reads plays well. She has great ability outside of the crease which we're seeing more of in our game. Goalies are getting more active outside the crease but that's a strength of Allie's. It's something that she doesn't have to think a whole lot about. That's a nice wrinkle that she brings to our team and we're thrilled about it."
Murray is now the veteran mentor to a pair of talented freshmen in Liz O'Sullivan and Jennifer Blum. Just as Hilling and Bruggeman did for her, Murray is making sure to pass along lessons to her teammates while they simultaneously push her in competition for precious playing time.
"It's been a natural transition," Murray said. "Ellie always competed with Adele and myself trying to take over her spot. Jen and Liz have done a great job this year of giving their best all of the time."
It's been two years' worth of evolution and maturation but Murray is showing daily on and off of the Loftus field that she is up for the task. As the 2014 campaign opens on Wednesday against the Bearcats, few have awaited the day more than the woman who will be between the pipes for Notre Dame.