Oct. 28, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Just three months into her opening season as head coach of the Notre Dame women's lacrosse program, excitement is evident on Christine Halfpenny's face as she describes the team's improvement throughout the fall and her game plan for the upcoming 2012 season.
"We used the fall as an opportunity 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 also started to put our systems and schemes in place.
It has been important for on-field leaders to be established," continued Halfpenny. "We are close to naming captains for the 2012 season. We have had some girls that others on the team look towards for leadership, and it is about time they are recognized for their leadership."
One of Halfpenny's main goals is trying to replace a group of seniors that contributed 147 of the teams 345 points from last season, including four of the top seven point scorers.
To help begin that process, Halfpenny brings her motion offense and her attacking defense to Notre Dame 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."
During the fall the team has been working on shooting, feeding and screens all in the name of creating flow.
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.
"Fans can expect a fun, fast-paced team," said Halfpenny. "There will be a lot of ball movement and high-pressure defense. We are working on our 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 are currently identifying individuals with great reaction ability that could be drawers or in the circle."
When asked about a couple of players that have stood out to the coaches throughout the course of the fall, Halfpenny mentioned almost half the team before joking that she had just named more than a few.
Among the first mentioned was senior attacker Maggie Tamasitis, who returns for her final year in the Notre Dame blue and gold after leading the Irish in assists and points as a junior.
"Maggie is a crucial playmaker for us," said Halfpenny. "Right now we are continuing to work on her dynamic ability, her feeding and her driving ability."
"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. Jordy is kind of the glue that keeps our defense together. We are expecting big things out of both this year."
Looking to help Tamasitis up top is junior Betsy Mastropieri, who scored 18 goals and totaled 21 points last season.
"Betsy is a shifty attacker who can shake any defender," said Halfpenny. "She has the ability to transition the ball up the field quickly and attack the defenders."
Also helping out on defense will be junior Emily Connor. Halfpenny mentioned Connor's smarts on defense, and her ability to capitalize on opponent's mistakes.
"Kaitlyn has a great will to win and is a hard worker," said Halfpenny. "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. 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."
The freshmen seemed to give Halfpenny yet another reason to smile however.
"The entire freshmen class is showing a lot of ability to make an early impact," said Halfpenny. "Shauna Pugliese, Caitlin Gargan, Leah Gallagher and Barbara Sullivan have all four come in and made an impact at their respective positions. Shauna shows great ability as a playmaker, Caitlin provides quality depth to the midfield, Leah is an aggressive, quick defender, and Barbara is just a special player. She is smart on defense and has incredible athletic ability."
In the goal, Notre Dame returns veteran Ellie Hilling, who notched 131 saves as the Irish went 10-9 a year ago. She will be pushed for playing time by freshman Allie Murray and fellow junior Adele Bruggeman.
"Ellie brings incredible experience to the team," said Halfpenny. "She has ninja-like hands and has a great ability to spark a break. Allie has a completely different style and is capable of making the momentum-changing saves. Adele gives us more height in goal when we need a change of pace. All three goalkeepers help our shooters get better in practice every day."
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. "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."
Now that fall matches are completed, the team will now get to work with a hard month of November training leading into winter break. The training does give a short break for some fun however, as the team will compete against each other in a Halloween costume contest that will be held at Halfpenny's house, with the coaches choosing a winner.
As the winter months inch closer, excitement is in the air (and on the face of Halfpenny) at Notre Dame when it pertains to the women's lacrosse program and the head coach has no complaints in letting it be known.
"Growing is happening," said the Latham, N.Y., native. "Inspired lacrosse is starting to happen. The writing is on the wall for a lot of special things to happen this spring."