Feb. 26, 2016

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By Leigh Torbin

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – For a while, there was reason to be concerned that there may never be a goal scored. Then, there was concern as to whether the No. 5 Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team would ever stop scoring.

After playing to a scoreless draw for 20:55, the Irish reeled off 12 unanswered goals over the next 15:28 and cruised to a 14-4 win over Colorado on Friday night inside the Loftus Sports Center.

The Irish improved to 4-0 with the win and have now enjoyed a scoring run of at least 8-0 at some stage in each of the four contests. Freshman goalkeeper Samantha Giacolone shutout the Buffaloes for 46:50, making eight saves on the night while the Irish offense was led by Cortney Fortunato with her 23rd career hat trick and freshman Nikki Ortega who scored twice and collected a pair of assists.

During head coach Christine Halfpenny’s Irish squad’s 50th win during her tenure at the helm, one thing that truly impressed came in the diversity of attack. Each of Notre Dame’s first nine goals were scored by a different player, including three who were not in the starting lineup.

“It’s the depth,” Halfpenny said. “It’s so exciting. Colorado put two of their top defenders in Rachel (Sexton’s)’s hands and on Cortney’s hip. When they do that I look at the rest of the kids and say `it’s your day.’ Everyone has the confidence to stick to our very basic structure offense and fall back on your preparation. That’s what gets us so excited. They have answers. I was excited to look down and see new names on the score sheet. I think it makes us very difficult to defend and very dynamic.”

The game began as a lengthy stalemate on the scoreboard as left-handed Colorado netminder Paige Soenksen and Giacolone took turns taking challenging shots and turning them into possessions going the other way. Not surprisingly, even the sequence which led to the game’s first goal included a save. Soenksen stopped a shot by Kiera McMullan but left a rebound for Stephanie Toy whose second goal of the year broke the scoreless tie with 9:05 to play before the half.

Notre Dame doubled its lead just under four minutes later when Sexton rolled around the net from behind to score. The Irish finished the half with a flurry, collecting goals by Grace Muller, Jenn Casadonte and Heidi Annaheim over the final 3:08 to take a 5-0 lead into the intermission.

The second half would open much like the first one ended as Notre Dame scored seven goals in the first 6:23 to usurp complete dominance of the contest. After waiting for two thirds of the first half to expire before getting a goal, the Irish needed just 15 seconds in the second half. Barbara Sullivan controlled the opening draw and got the ball to Casey Pearsall who threw a long pass downfield to Fortunato for the first of her three goals on the night. A similar highlight-reel goal would cap the run. Sullivan controlled the draw after the Irish went up 11-0. The defensive-minded Tewaaraton Award finalist a year ago saw Fortunato break to the goal and threw what amounted to an alley-oop pass from about 30 yards away, making it 12-0.

The assist and draw controls were all a part of another solid effort from Sullivan who had three caused turnovers and four ground balls to go along with the five draw controls. The caused turnovers give Sullivan 118 in her Irish career, moving her into second place on the school’s career chart – four behind Margaret Smith’s 122 from 2011-14.

The bewildered Buffaloes finally solved Giacolone when Cali Castagnola scored on a free position shot with 13:10 left in the game to trigger a three-goal run. The freshman netminder would stop eight of the 11 Colorado shots on net over 55:11 of action before yielding to backup Nicole Fantozzi. The backstop of a defense that has allowed a mere 22 goals and 64 opposing shots over its first four games, Giacolone has made a difference already in 2016.

“Sam was outstanding,” Halfpenny said. “She did a nice job of seeing the ball. This is something that we know she’s capable of. We saw the fruits of all of her work pay off last weekend (making 13 saves against No. 9 Boston College). It speaks to her getting comfortable at the Division I level with the speed of the game and trusting that defense in front of her. She was outstanding and she’s just continuing to get better. It helps our defense to play that aggressive style when they know they have Sam behind them and tonight, again, she was a brick wall.”

The Irish outshot the Buffaloes 32-13 on the night.

Notre Dame will look to continue its torrid start to the 2016 season on Sunday when it plays host to the Golden Bears of California at noon inside the Loftus Sports Center.


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.