April 23, 2016
COLUMBUS, Ohio -
By Leigh Torbin
Loaded with talent and experience all over the field, head coach Christine Halfpenny has looked at the 2016 regular season, which culminates on Saturday at No. 15 Ohio State, as the first stage in what could amount into deep runs into both the upcoming ACC and NCAA championships.
The Irish have been tested ceaselessly over the past two months in particular. The Buckeyes will be the fifth consecutive top-15 opponent for the Irish and the eighth in the last nine games. It is entirely possible given the depth of the ACC and NCAA fields, that Notre Dame will not play another unranked team this year.
Aside from providing an ACC-caliber foe that will be hungry to avenge its 2015 NCAA championships loss to the Irish and challenge the Irish at both ends of the field, the Buckeyes are also taking another step towards Notre Dame's ACC Championship preparation. Instead of the Buckeye's usual home at 10,000-seat Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, the Notre Dame game will be contested inside 104,944-seat Ohio Stadium.
On Thursday, Notre Dame will face a still-unknown opponent at Virginia Tech's 65,632-seat Lane Stadium. Like Saturday's game at Ohio State, plenty of good seats remain available, which can be a challenge in and of itself. While it is exciting for women's lacrosse teams to play in such renowned and hallowed venues as "the Shoe" or the place where "Enter Sandman" truly entered the collective conscience of college football, they do provide a different set of challenges.
"The whole season the starts have aligned in terms of one game prepping us for the next game," Half penny said. "We saw three back-to-back-to-back left-handed goalies (earlier this year). We saw one-shell defenses back-to-back or quick-doubling defenses or face-guarding -- we've seen some things back-to-back.
"Our team is not looking ahead to ACCs at all but we know we'll be playing in back-to-back football stadiums. I think that's great to get a sense of the depth perception and seeing the ball. Vocals and acoustics are different. That will be coming and we'll have to adjust."
Halfpenny did not need to channel her inner Norman Dale and bring out a tape measure on Friday as the Irish practiced at Ohio Stadium to point out that the goals, the goal creases, the field dimensions, etc. are all the same as the Irish see daily at Arlotta Stadium.
What does differ though is a shooter looking at a net and seeing thousands of empty seats behind it in the distance as opposed to a fence 10 yards away. There is always a grandstand on one side of an Irish lacrosse venue. Having the other side bound by a grandstand instead of an open field or berm is new for the Irish. Walking to the field not under an open sky but rather through a concrete tunnel that has welcomed college football legends, not to mention musical royalty like the Rolling Stones? It's a different experience.
Throughout a challenging non-conference schedule, Notre Dame has seen elite opponents which have allowed it to hone its game in preparation for the postseason. In 11-3 Ohio State, the Irish will not only get a hungry foe anxious to beat the Irish not unlike Notre Dame's to be announced ACC championship opponent, but the Buckeyes will also set a physical stage that can help get the Irish ready for what awaits in Blacksburg in five days.
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women's lacrosse team while serving as the football publicity team's top lieutenant. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.