May 21, 2016
By Leigh Torbin
Looking back seven weeks, Notre Dame head coach Christine Halfpenny had it exactly right. As the Irish stand today 60 minutes from the NCAA semifinals, on March 26 they stood one goal shy (12-11) of a Syracuse team which will also play today for a berth in the Memorial Day weekend semifinals -- "championship weekend" in the argot of college lacrosse.
Since April 3 the Irish have played nine games. All of them have been against teams ranked in the top 15. Eight of them have been against teams which reached the NCAA second round. Three of them were against fellow NCAA quarterfinalists. The competitive road to this point has been daunting and treacherous.
However, led by 12 seniors, six all-region picks, three All-Americans, and the country's best defender, Halfpenny knew all along, even in the shadow of a tough home loss, that all of the pieces were in place to get here.
"We can be critical with ourselves because we know where we want to go," Halfpenny told the team in their Arlotta Stadium locker room as captured by Fighting Irish Media cameras for Irish Access. "Where we want to go is Memorial Day weekend. The beauty of our schedule is we have opportunity on opportunity on opportunity. We have 12 top 15 games. It's two games, two goals guys (ND stood 9-2 that day, losing to No. 11 Louisville and No. 5 Syracuse by one goal apiece). Two goals.
"I think if we look at ourselves and think `maybe I overthought that. I just need to bring it. I just need to trust myself and trust my teammates.' We're going to get exactly what we want. I couldn't be more excited about where we sit."
Halfpenny's optimism has proven to be warranted. Facing the afore-mentioned unrelenting schedule, the Irish are seventh in the nation in scoring margin at +5.90 goals per game. Notre Dame continues to lead the nation in caused turnovers. The 14 wins accumulated by the Irish to date are third-best in school history. Notre Dame has reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009 and with a win on Saturday at No. 3 North Carolina will be playing Memorial Day weekend, just as Halfpenny suggested in March.
"We have experience," Halfpenny said. "Players understood the road that we were about to embark upon. The work that was going to be put in. They have experience as leaders off the field and experience as players on the field. That specifically catapulted the mindset and the culture of this year's team. They have been goal-oriented and know what they are playing for. That kept us focused and on our path the entire season."
The path has been traversed to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and the NCAA quarterfinals. The road ahead is unchartered for this Irish team. The journey to this point, however, has prepared our ladies well for the adventure which awaits on Saturday as they aim to claim their spot on the championship weekend stage.
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.