January 24, 2014


#LMRanks: No. 11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (WD1)

by Matt DaSilva | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | College Preview 2014

Barbara Sullivan is a veteran presence for a Notre Dame team hoping to infuse a big freshman class this spring. (TD Paulius)

Vitals

2013 Record: 12-5 (5-3 Big East)
Coach: Christine Halfpenny (3rd year)
Record at Notre Dame: 25-10

Power Ratings

Offense: 3
Defense: 4
Goalkeeping: 3
Draw Control: 4

Top Returner

D Barbara Sullivan (Jr.)
The youngest first-team All-American in Notre Dame history will anchor the Irish's high-pressure defense, continue to take the draw and get the toughest 1-on-1 assignments. Look for entertaining matchups against Maryland's Taylor Cummings and Duke's Taylor Trimble, among others, and more of a presence from Sullivan in the transition offense in 2014.

X-Factor

M Casey Pearsall (Fr.)
Pearsall tore her ACL playing basketball last February, forcing her to sit out her senior season in lacrosse—a year after she set two school scoring records and was named Connecticut's top player. With Cortney Fortunato stealing the headlines in this Notre Dame freshman class, Pearsall is an under-the-radar pick to do big things in South Bend this spring.

NCAA Tournament Trend

2009 - Quarterfinals
2010 - First Round
2011 - Did Not Qualify
2012 - First Round
2013 - First Round

What's New?

What's not? Notre Dame moves from the Big East to the ACC, Halfpenny's old haunts. (She played at Virginia Tech and was an assistant at Duke.) "I'm thrilled. I have, like, an immature giggle about it," Halfpenny said. "It's such an edgy conference. Every player in that conference, they're the best of the best." Additionally, the Irish will deploy a more midfield-heavy lineup and plan to unveil a nontraditional uniform with a slightly altered color scheme. Fortunato, Persall and Alex Dalton all likely will start as freshmen. "Everything's new," Halfpenny said. "We're traveling to new venues. We're playing new opponents. I'm excited because I know it. I know what's coming. It just gets me really fired up to share that with them."

Telling Number

3
Freshmen that could be in the starting lineup for Notre Dame's season opener Feb. 12 against Cincinnati: Cortney Fortunato (82 goals, 36 assists at Northport (N.Y.) High), Casey Pearsall (41 goals and 77 assists in 2012 at Wilton (Conn.) High) and Alex Dalton (70 goals, 79 assists at Notre Dame (Mass.) Academy) are the real deal.

Enemy Lines

What Rival Coaches Say
"Cortney Fortunato has finally arrived and has everyone excited to see if she can carry this team to a national championship."

"Lots of talent, but haven't lived up to the hype in recent years, Maybe 2014 changes that?"

"A lot of key players are returning in every position. The GK Allie Murray will be a player to watch in cage."

"Top recruiting classes along with strong veterans will help Coach Halfpenny win a lot of games."

"They have a lot of talent."

"Had a few head-scratching losses last season. Fortunato could be enough to turn a few of those games into Ws."

"Solid blend of experience and youth."

"They have the talent and will hopefully put it together this year."

"Not that they won't be ready for it, but playing in the ACC will be an adjustment for anyone."

"They have a highly touted freshmen class, so they have some great talents there and will look a little different, I'm sure, than we saw them last. They are a really athletic team, and certainly with (coach) Christine (Halfpenny) now being there a couple years, I'm sure they are starting to get into their systems a little better."

2013 Recap

In a Nutshell: For the second straight season, Notre Dame started off scorching hot, only to cool significantly down the stretch. The Irish won their first 10 games, their best start since 2004, and rose to as high as No. 5 in national rankings. But they stumbled through the Big East, losing four of their last six regular season games. The late-season slide was punctuated by an NCAA tournament first-round loss to Stanford. In that game, Notre Dame rallied from three goals down to go ahead 7-6 with 5:07 remaining. Stanford tied it with just under two minutes remaining and won it on Hannah Farr's free-position goal with four seconds remaining, the result of an Irish shooting space violation.

High Point: A 13-12 victory over Big East foe Georgetown on April 14 made it look like the Irish's late-season luck might change. They were outplayed in most statistical categories, but showed remarkable resiliency and offensive efficiency. Goalie Ellie Hilling made 14 saves and Caitlin Gargan scored four second-half goals in the win at Arlotta Stadium.

Low Point: It couldn't feel much lower than losing an NCAA tournament game on a free position, due to shooting space, of all things. Stanford's Hannah Farr drew the foul with 8 seconds left in the teams' first-round encounter and scored the game-winner with 4 seconds remaining, sending Notre Dame packing in the first round for the second straight season. "A shooting space call with 8 seconds left was very difficult to swallow," Halfpenny said. "You have to take your lumps. That was one of them. We're not defeated by that loss. We're motivated by that loss."

2014 Preview

Best Case: Fortunato is as good as advertised — "She's a game changer," Halfpenny said — becomes just the fourth player in this millennium to earn IWLCA first-team All-American honors as a freshman and puts Notre Dame in the national championship conversation. The Irish also get Lindsay Powell and Margaret Smith back to full health in time for a run to the final four, despite a hiccup or two in the powerful ACC.

Worst Case: Aggressive faceguards force the Irish to seek other options other than Fortunato on an unproven attack line and they are unable to generate enough offense from the midfield to keep up with the likes of North Carolina, Maryland and Syracuse. They go 1-6 in the ACC, beating only Virginia Tech, make the NCAA tournament on strength of schedule and fall in the first round for the third straight year.

Self-Examination— Christine Halfpenny on...

Cortney Fortunato:
"Yeah, she's a game changer. She's really changed the way we train. Because of her skill level, it's really exciting to see everybody else pushing themselves, trying new things and being creative, because she plays a very creative style. But she also sets an example for everyone. It's the little things she grinds out. She's a hard worker on the rides, on ground balls. She trains really, really hard. So that's also amped up the level. It's not just Barb Sullivan. When you have that skill level, that creativity, you see the game differently. And when you have more than one of those — and now we've got one at the defensive end and one at the attacking end —everybody's level is raised."

Barbara Sullivan
"We won 12 games last year. Without Barbara I don’t know how possible that would be. When she's at her best, she has a competitive nature you don't find every day or every year. When you read all these cliché quotes from Hall of Fame coaches across generations, she legitimately summarizes the will to win. If we needed her to step in goal to win a game, she would. All she wants to do is win. And she has an on-off switch. She can be the most nerving, competitive, step-on-your-throat competitor, but the cool thing about Barb is, she came to Notre Dame because she wanted to be a part of the fabric of the entire community. She's heavily involved in SAAC. She's a reporter for one of our student-led interview combos, a field correspondent. She just has a variety of personalities. She's laid back, she's fun, she's competitive and that makes her such an important fixture to what we're doing here. When we're with lacrosse, we're all in with lacrosse. And when we're not, we're really enjoying the four-year college experience. She's been a good role model to the rest of the team and in particular my first recruiting class." 

Lindsay Powell
"She had her knee scoped this fall, so we didn’t see much action out of her. She’ll be coming back from her knee scope, which is kind of a constant injury for her. She had her freshman year, really strong sophomore year, tore her knee right before we played Loyola in the semis, she wasn’t herself last year and they went back in and scoped it. But she’s been working her tail off in rehab, so we’ll see what happens."

Kaitlyn Brosco
"Probably more of an attack role for her. She’ll be probably fighting for minutes on attack."

Margaret Smith
"She actually sat out the fall and will be coming back from injury. We’ll have to see how she comes back… She should be in the mix in the midfield."


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