Feb. 17, 2012
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the latest in an ongoing series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2012 Notre Dame spring sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the Fighting Irish women's lacrosse team, which enters the next chapter in program history in 2012 with a new coach and a new style of play.
A new era begins on Feb. 19 against Stanford as the Notre Dame women's lacrosse team opens a campaign for the first time not under the direction of long-time head coach and program starter Tracy Coyne.
Enter Christine Halfpenny, the former William & Mary head coach, who is charged with taking over a program that has won one BIG EAST Tournament title and advanced to six NCAA Tournaments, including the 2006 Final Four, since the program was founded in 1997.
"The offseason was used as a time to build on the foundation that has been set here the last 15 years, but at the same time rebuild some culture," said Halfpenny. "We have been working on defining our team personality, which will help with team chemistry, and we have had a chance to put our systems and schemes in place."
The system Halfpenny mentions is her motion offense and attacking defense she brings to the Irish from William & Mary. The object on offense is for multiple players to see touches during a play, thus allowing an opportunity for all seven on the attack to have a chance to score on any given offensive possession.
"We want the opponent to have to be ready for us at all seven points," said Halfpenny. "We want opponents to expect that any of the seven offensive weapons could take a shot at any moment."
On defense Halfpenny likes to incorporate an attacking style that brings a lot of pressure to the opponent's offense and looks to create a lot of turnovers.
"We incorporate a high-pressure defense," said Halfpenny. "We emphasize speed and conditioning so we can implement our team strategies effectively."
Another area that Halfpenny places great emphasis on is the draw.
"If you can get the draw you are giving yourself more opportunities to be successful," said Halfpenny. "We worked during the fall and winter on identifying individuals with great reaction ability that could be drawers or in the circle."
The Irish lost a lot from last year's 10-9 squad, namely three-time second-team All-American Shaylyn Blaney and two-time first-team All-American Jackie Doherty. All told, six of last year's seniors tallied 147 of the team's 345 points.
However, not all of the team's talent graduated, leaving life for a quick rebuilding process as a new era begins under the Golden Dome.
Leading the charge is senior attacker Maggie Tamasitis, who is a preseason third-team All-American and first team all-BIG EAST performer while also representing Notre Dame on the Tewaaraton Watch List. Last year the Boyertown, Pa., native had a breakout year, tallying 21 goals and 46 assists for 67 points, on her way to third team All-America honors and first team all-BIG EAST and all-region accolades.
"Maggie is a crucial playmaker for us," said Halfpenny. "She brings so much to the table in the way of distributing skills and her athleticism. We expect her to have a monster senior season."
The midfield is stocked full of talent for the upcoming season. Anchoring the middle is senior Megan Sullivan, who had 33 ground balls, 20 draw controls and 16 caused turnovers as a junior. Joining her will be junior Jenny Granger, who hurt defenders with her offensive prowess (26 G, 12 A, 38 P) and her speed and stick work (12 ground balls, 18 draw controls), sophomore Margaret Smith, who tallied 32 ground balls, 21 draw controls and 15 caused turnovers and sophomore Kaitlyn Brosco, who earned second team all-region and all-BIG EAST honors after scoring 32 goals, scooping up 14 ground balls and gathering in 14 draw controls.
"Meg is a wonderful leader for us," said Halfpenny. "She has a strong desire to be the best. She is very fast and has great communication skills on defense. Kaitlyn has a great will to win and is a hard worker. Her communications skills are outstanding. She will help to get the motion offense started. She'll see a lot of success if she keeps doing the things she is doing."
"Jordy is kind of the glue that keeps our defense together," said Halfpenny. "We are expecting big things out of her this year. Betsy is a shifty attacker who can shake any defender. She has the ability to transition the ball up the field quickly and attack the defenders."
Expected to play a role in the rotation at defender is junior Emily Conner, while sophmores Molly Shawhan and Lindsay Powell are both expected to make big contributions to the midfield and attacker positions.
Halfpenny highlighted Connor's smarts on defense, and her ability to capitalize on opponent's mistakes.
"Molly is great at picking up 50/50 balls, and made her presence known against Duke and North Carolina by getting up and down the field. Lindsay is an athletic player, who worked extremely hard to return from a knee injury last season. She is an outstanding one-on-one attacker and has great shooting skills."
A talented freshman class will help ease the loss of the talented 2011 group, as several look to earn playing time immediately. Highlighting the group is defender Barbara Sullivan, who along with fellow Irish freshman Allie Murray, earned a spot on the U-19 USA team that won the gold medal at the Women's Lacrosse World Championships in Hanover, Germany this past August. Others that could help out the team in year one are Caitlin Gargan, Leah Gallagher and Elizabeth Driscoll. The sixth freshman, Shauna Pugliese, was expected to see significant time in the spring, but suffered a knee injury in the team's exhibition game against Johns Hopkins that will sideline her for the season.
Back minding the net for the third consecutive year is junior Ellie Hilling, who saw over 1,110 minutes in the cage last year, while stopping 131 shots for a 9.67 goals against average.
"Ellie brings incredible experience to the team," said Halfpenny. "She has ninja-like hands and has a great ability to spark a break."
Captaining this year's squad are three senior veterans in Tamasitis, Sullivan and Shoemaker.
The Irish chose to play an incredibly hard schedule in Halfpenny's first fall, as they battled three of the four Final Four teams from a year ago. The team experienced some growing pains in the fall season opener against defending National Champion Northwestern, but Halfpenny thinks the team learned from that match.
"Our performance was far from acceptable and the team knows that," said Halfpenny. "We came out against them and there was a lack of motivation and a lack of inspired lacrosse and they made us pay. The positives came when the juniors and seniors learned that they are the on-field leaders now. It lit a fire in the team and they played much better against North Carolina and Duke."
The team closed out the fall season against Navy and Delaware and continued showing improvement.
"The team is progressing at a nice rate," said Halfpenny after the fall. "We are starting to define ourselves. Everyone knows the expectations now and the coaches are getting to know the players now that the newness has worn off a bit. We have team goals that include winning the first BIG EAST regular season title in school history, but we have a lot of work to put in to make goals like that a reality."
The 2012 spring schedule offers up several challenges if the team hopes to make a return to the NCAA Tournament after not being one of the 16 teams involved a year ago.
Foes ranked in the preseason Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) poll dot the schedule for the No. 20 Irish, including the season opener against No. 6 Stanford at home. Other opponents that are ranked include No. 7 Loyola (Md.) (4/01), No. 12 Syracuse (4/05), No. 15 Georgetown (4/21), No. 18 Ohio State (3/04) and No. 19 Vanderbilt (4/18).
"We are just so excited for the season to get underway," expressed Halfpenny. "We think we have a team that can surprise some people this year, but we won't know until we get into the schedule and start playing some of these elite teams."
With a mix of returning and freshman talent and the flavor of a new coaching staff, the Irish are putting together a recipe for a fun and exciting 2012 season.
A (HALF)PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
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PROTECT THIS HOUSE
SHOES TO FILL
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