March 14, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Tied at the half, and in search of its first ACC victory of the year, the 17th-ranked Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team (4-4, 1-2 ACC) turned in a dominant second-half performance and record-setting offensive outing from sophomore attacker Cortney Fortunato to claim a 15-8 victory over Virginia Tech (5-5, 0-2 ACC) Saturday at Arlotta Stadium.
“The reality is we went in to halftime and said `we’re good, we’re fine,'” explained Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny. “We had to limit our turnovers, which means we had to grind out the possessions that we had. We had four turnovers in the first half and two of those led to goals. Eliminating that by sticking to the game plan and having better up-cuts from our attackers was crucial; attackers come get the ball out of our defenders hands.”
The first half got underway on the right foot for the Irish, as a quick hat trick from Fortunato staked the team to a 3-0 lead with 20:17 yet to play. The Hokies would not be deterred, however, as they tallied seven of the final 11 goals of the frame, including a pair from NCAA goal-scoring leader Megan Will, to even the contest 7-7 heading to intermission.
Needing a strong second-half performance to end a recent three-game skid, the Irish responded in a big way, limiting the Hokies to only five second-half shots, while outdrawing them by an 8-2 margin. After Heidi Annaheim and Stephanie Toy found the back of the net on back-to-back possessions, Virginia Tech’s Gracee Hendrix was able to deposit an unassisted goal to cut the score to 9-8 at 21:40.
From there Notre Dame would clamp down on the Hokies, as the Irish did not surrender another goal while tallying six unanswered on their end of the field. Casey Pearsall got the run started with an unassisted goal at 19:59, followed shortly after by the first of the season from Alex Dalton at 15:59. After a nearly 10-minute goal drought, Rachel Sexton found the back of the net at 5:38 before Fortunato finished her day with three more in succession at 5:30, 1:32 and 1:19.
“Defensively, our adjustment was our offense,” stated Halfpenny. “Stick to the game plan, possess the ball, everyone on the same page and then attack together. So that was really our game plan heading in here; we’re going to win the draw and now we have to take better care of the ball and really be patient in our offense. I think our patient offense allowed us to attack on defense.”
In helping the Irish get back in the win column, Fortunato also found a place for herself in the Notre Dame record books. Her eight goals in the contest set a single-game home record, topping the previous mark of seven by both Jillian Byers (April 18, 2009, vs. Connecticut) and Courtney Calabrese (April 18, 1998, vs. Gannon). It also marked the second-best scoring output – home or away – in program history, trailing only Crysti Foote’s nine-goal barrage on Feb. 24, 2006, against California.
“Cortney is a really dynamic attacker and I think at this point in the season she was ready to take on the quarterback role for us,” expressed Halfpenny. “The beauty of what Cortney did today was that she didn’t just score in one way, she scored in a number of different ways – off the feed, off the one-on-one drive, off the eight-meter – and it was just kind of her day to shine. As a team, I think everyone utilized Cortney properly because then once she drew the tight matches, everyone around her started finding the back of the net as well.”
All told, six different Irish players found their way on to the score sheet and sophomore goalkeeper Liz O’Sullivan saved four shots in the victory.
Notre Dame returns to the field next Saturday, March 21, for a showdown with Big Ten foe Ohio State. Game time is slated for 12 p.m. EDT from Arlotta Stadium and will be broadcast through ESPN3.