April 22, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. –
By Victor Diaz ’15
In sports, there will always be expectations. Those expectations can be for something as small as a game, or for something as big as a season. The larger the expectations are, the more difficult they become to meet, and the biggest of all expectations are those set for someone’s career.
For freshman and number one recruit Cortney Fortunato, the expectations couldn’t be higher. From the beginning of her high school career, Fortunato was sought after by many big name programs, including ACC rivals.
“The recruiting process for lacrosse starts pretty early,” Fortunato recalls. “For me, my sophomore and junior year were the big years for being recruited. It started a little bit freshman year, but it was mostly the summer of sophomore year and junior year when I started being recruited and taking visits.”
Even though she was not seriously recruited until her high school career began, Fortunato burst onto the women’s lacrosse scene at a young age and had been on many people’s radars for quite some time.
“I started playing lacrosse when I was in the fourth grade, and then I moved into the club programs,” Fortunato says. “Then our high school team was pretty good, but I started playing varsity at a young age.”
Fortunato began her varsity career in the seventh grade and finishing that six-year stint with a whopping 559 points (388 goals, 171 assists). Her impressive pre-collegiate numbers led many to believe that Fortunato would be able to make an immediate impact at the college level, including Notre Dame head coach Christine Halfpenny.
“Our goal for Cortney is that she continues to build into the quarterback role of the offense and facilitate a lot of offense by having the ball go through her stick quite a bit,” Halfpenny says.
However, high school numbers do not guarantee that production will translate to the next level, and potential alone doesn’t fulfill expectations. But in Fortunato’s case, the hype has been real. She has found success early, and has put up big numbers in the role her coach has asked her to fill.
“My role with Notre Dame is similar but definitely a little bit different than it was in high school,” Fortunato says. “I’ve been in a leadership on offense role, but it’s definitely been different in the college game. There’s some seniority that takes some of the vocal leadership role, but I’ve been in similar situations, it’s not anything too crazy that I haven’t seen before.”
Although lacking the experience of the other impact players on the team, Fortunato has become an offensive leader in the eyes of her teammates and coach, who relies on her freshman for scoring sparks.
“She’s a huge facilitator for our offense,” Halfpenny says. “She has the ability to quarterback it with the ball in her stick or without it in her stick. She usually gives a big momentum swing for us.”
So far this season, Fortunato has started all 16 games, tallying 41 goals, 13 assists, and 54 points. All three are team-leading stats, as well as her 71 shots on goal. These are the kind of numbers that catch the eye of the nation and drive opposing teams mad.
“She obviously draws a lot of attention, no matter if the ball is in her stick or not,” Halfpenny says.
When a freshman can come in and demand that level of attention from opposing defenses, it is difficult to consider their first season anything but a success. However, even successful seasons can fall short of lofty expectations set by talent analysts and the press.
But Halfpenny is confident that Fortunato has gone a long way to live up to all expectations.
“I think she has basically shown all the top press and all the top billing that she got,” Halfpenny says. “She’s been everything and more.”
According to Halfpenny, what has prepared Fortunato to take the leap to the next level and find success is her prior experience as a young player on an older and talented team.
“She was on varsity as a seventh grader,” Halfpenny says. She was on the U19 team as the only fifteen year old on the field, and the leading scorer, so she has a comfort level of playing as the youngest player with the older kids.”
The result is a freshman in Fortunato that immediately feels at home on a field where most players are at least two years her senior.
“She has a maturity about her when you look at her on the field, and she has a calm and confidence with and without the ball,” Halfpenny says. “That’s a maturity that you don’t just pick up.”
But despite the stellar numbers she’s put up thus far and her coach’s commendations, Fortunato still has more that she wants to accomplish, saying that her expectations of herself are “pretty high.”
“To be honest, I wish I had a little bit better of a season thus far,” says Fortunato, who is among the top 10 ACC goal scorers. “I had a few good games, but I don’t really think I’ve played up to my full potential yet.”
The idea that Fortunato has not yet unlocked her full potential is a scary thought, as her team has already strongly benefitted from her play, and are currently ranked 13th in the nation behind her scoring. Look to her to lead the Irish offense, as the Irish try to close out a successful season and enter the postseason with some high expectations of their own.