March 21, 2015
When the University of Notre Dame women's lacrosse team stepped onto the Arlotta Stadium turf for an Atlantic Coast Conference match against Virginia Tech on Saturday, the Fighting Irish needed a strong start to try and snap a three-game tailspin.
That's when Cortney Fortunato, a sophomore attacker, stepped up, scoring Notre Dame's first four goals.
When Notre Dame gained the upper hand in the second half, the Fighting Irish needed a strong finish to hold on to a much-needed ACC victory.
That's when Fortunato stepped up, again.
Fortunato scored Notre Dame's final three goals, and the Irish got back on the right track with a 15-8 victory.
Coach Christine Halfpenny's Irish, ranked No. 17 in the nation, evened up their record at 4-4 and improved to 1-2 in the ACC.
Fortunato ended up with eight goals, the most in Fighting Irish history on home turf. The previous single-game home record for most goals scored was seven, set by Courtney Calabrese (April 18, 1998, vs. Gannon) and tied by Jillian Byers (April 18, 2009, vs. Connecticut). The all-time Irish record for most goals scored in a single game is nine, set by Crysti Foote on Feb. 24, 2006, against California.
Halfpenny said Fortunato is the quarterback of the Irish offense. Fortunato emerged last season as an impact player. She was named the national rookie of the year by womenslax.com, and was named an All-American. She led the Irish in scoring as a freshman, netting 46 goals. Fortunato arrived on campus with a reputation as a gifted player. She was the MVP of the Under Armour All-American Senior Game.
"Cortney does have a special athleticism skill set," Halfpenny said. "I'm going to pay tribute to her parents on that. They were both collegiate athletes. Her dad was a baseball player, and her mom was a diver.
"Cortney just has a sick ability to stop on a dime, chop her steps down and change direction, change speed. That, coupled with the amount of hard work she's put in since a very young age, makes her a special player. She's been driven to come here, to be a Notre Dame women's lacrosse player who makes a difference. She backed that up today."
Fortunato put her skills on display Saturday and, despite being targeted by Virginia Tech, she racked up eight goals.
"We talked all week about coming out strong and coming out fast and attacking," Fortunato said. "The fast break was really important to our game plan. Coming off a couple of big losses, it was a big thing for us to come out really fast and aggressive at the start. I think we did that.
"Most of the goals weren't one on one," Fortunato said. "They were coming off plays we've been working on. Most of them were assisted or they were eight meters, because of things my teammates did. I really want to credit them. That was a big team win. We really came together."
Fortunato said her understanding of the game complements her athletic skills.
"My biggest strength is my vision on the field--just being able to help everyone out and getting in the right spots so the plays can develop," Fortunato said. "I try to stay two passes ahead of the play and see what's coming. Everybody has been working on that. I think it showed today. We really put it all together."
Entering the Virginia Tech game, Notre Dame had lost to No. 3 Boston College, No. 11 Stanford and No. 18 Stony Brook. Fortunato scored her first goal at 27:14. By the time the clock hit 20:17 of the first half, the Irish had a 3-0 lead.
"Cortney was really, really focused on her role today as the quarterback of the offense," Halfpenny said. "She's a really good teammate. Things go hand in hand. Barbara Sullivan has eight draw controls, and Cortney scores eight goals. Cortney has been working really hard on our game. Our entire team has been working really hard on our game.
"I think we got a little bit older today. We really had to push through our third game in eight days. That's a tough thing for any team to do. I don't care how old you are. But to have seven sophomores and a freshman out there at times and to grind through what was a must win for both teams, that was huge."
Sullivan, the Notre Dame senior defender who has the challenge of guarding Fortunato in practice, has seen Fortunato develop as a special player.
"You can be on her, and she'll still score," Sullivan said of Fortunato. "She's quick, she's shifty and she moves her shoulders and creates space for herself. She's very difficult to stop.
"I've played lacrosse with Cortney since the seventh grade," Sullivan said. "I've seen her go from being a baby to the extraordinary player that she is right now. From a young age her stick skills were just unreal. She knows how to finish the ball. She works really, really hard. She will work extra four times a week. She has amazing drive. She's become a leader, which is really exciting to see. She's really taken off, and she's just a sophomore."
Halfpenny said Fortunato has the opportunity to carve out a great legacy at Notre Dame.
"Cortney has a really big future," Halfpenny said. "She also plays on the USA team. She goes hard year round, so we have to manage that. Cortney just continues to do what she does without any extra pressure . . . and she continues to build the respect of her teammates to be a big leader these next three years."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent