April 23, 2016
By Leigh Torbin
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The No. 6 Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team got the sort of momentum-building road win it needed heading into the ACC Championship on Saturday afternoon by running past No. 15 Ohio State, 17-9, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.
Paced by five goals from Cortney Fortunato, five points (three goals and two assists) from Casey Pearsall and eight saves by Samantha Giacolone, the Irish take a full head of steam into the conference showcase event wearing white for the first time. The Irish have claimed the third seed and will begin their march to a league title at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday when they face sixth-seeded Louisville inside Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium.
Saturday’s venture into a cavernous football facility proved fruitful for the Irish who capped their regular season at 12-5, one win shy of the school regular season victory record of 13 set in 2006 and matched in 2012.
“I’m really proud of our team focusing on ourselves and playing Notre Dame lacrosse from start to finish,” Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “It was an awesome effort from top to bottom. We had a great week of preparation. It was nice to see our team refocus themselves and play together and fight together for 60 minutes. It’s an awesome way to finish our regular season journey and give us confidence going into the ACC tournament on Thursday.”
The Buckeyes held a 3-2 lead midway through the first half but the Irish responded with a 5-1 run to take a 7-4 cushion which extended to a 9-6 halftime advantage. The Buckeyes would trim that edge to two goals at 10-8, but Notre Dame against showed its mettle in producing a 6-0 run which sealed the win.
“We got back to playing how we want to play and going into the tournament we’re right where we want to be” senior captain Stephanie Toy said. “Before the game we focused on having each other’s backs up and down the field and today our communication and our play showed that. It was a good way to finish up our regular season.”
Having each other’s backs on Saturday meant that 10 different Notre Dame players scored a goal. Having each other’s backs meant that nine different Notre Dame players caused a turnover. Having each other’s backs meant that 12 different Notre Dame players collected a ground ball — nine of them getting at least two of them. Having each other’s backs also left their head coach very happy.
“In that second half when we tightened things up, it was an 8-3 second half,” Halfpenny said. “We battled through adversity with every ball not going your way and a couple bad breaks. We had to adjust on the draw control (after losing the first four). It was great to have an opportunity to work through all those things. We reminded ourselves that it’s a long game and we had everything we need. Therefore we focused on our game plan and playing our style and for each other. It allowed them, to get what they wanted. That’s absolutely where we want to be at this point in the season scoring 17 goals and holding our opponents to single digits.”
The second half would see the Irish outshoot the Buckeyes, 17-12, beat them 14-7 on ground balls and force 14 Buckeye turnovers as the Irish assumed complete control of a quality opponent on the road. Even defensive stalwart Barbara Sullivan would score an unassisted goal as she sliced right through the center of the Ohio State defense on a run to the net.
The 2015 Irish advanced to the ACC semifinals, dropping Virginia before falling to North Carolina. The current edition is eager to take the next step, beginning Thursday night against a foe in Louisville against whom the Irish lost 10-9 in overtime in March and walked away feeling they had more to give. Carrying a full head of steam back from Columbus on Saturday, Notre Dame is eager for postseason play to commence.
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.