Feb. 14, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. –
Been there. Done that. Got the T-Shirt.
By 3:00 on Saturday, the No. 11 Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team will be able to say that about competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The anticipation has been building for over a year for Saturday’s 1:00 p.m. matchup with No. 17 Boston College at the Loftus Sports Center (fans receive a free commemorative ND-ACC debut T-Shirt) and at last the day has arrived where the Fighting Irish can finally look at the ACC’s league standings and see their record included.
Notre Dame head coach Christine Halfpenny didn’t even wait until today to start showing her pride in being at an ACC member institution.
“The minute that we were officially in on July 1, we immediately made sure that our uniforms, and quarter zip (pullovers) and more not only had our Notre Dame monogram on it, but enhanced the Notre Dame brand with the ACC logo,” she said. “That was exciting adding it. We feel a great sense of pride now to be a part of the best conference in the country.”
The marriage of the University and conference seems natural. A league that exemplifies success both on and off of the field, the ACC can claim 14 of the last 27 national champions and several of the country’s top academic institutions as well. Five of the eight women’s lacrosse schools are located in the top six of this week’s IWLCA poll and five of the eight are in the U.S. News & World Report top 31 national colleges. Overall, seven teams are in the IWLCA top 20 and all eight ACC women’s lacrosse schools are ranked in the top 69 of the U.S. News & World Report rankings.
“We’re thrilled because the ACC’s values align with what Notre Dame’s values are,” Halfpenny said. “Our league is amongst the best for student-athlete graduation rates and APR rates, not only for the lacrosse programs, but across the board. We do have that reputation for having schools that give an incredible degree while allowing our student-athletes to have the best competition in the country to compete against and a chance to win national titles.”
Halfpenny got a first-hand look at the ACC’s stellar women’s lacrosse offerings as an assistant coach at Duke from 2004-06. Those Blue Devil teams won three straight regular season league titles, one tournament championship, and went to a pair of NCAA semifinals. The league in 2004 had just four members (Duke, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia) but all made the NCAAs and finished the year ranked amongst the nation’s elite. There were no “gimme” games amongst the stringent top-to-bottom competition for ACC supremacy.
Arriving in the conference during Halfpenny’s final season in Durham, Boston College has proven to be a great fit for the league in women’s lacrosse. The Eagles have made the NCAA Tournament two of the past three years, saw Covie Stanwick lead the ACC in goals per game last spring, and BC stands at No. 31 nationally on the academic side in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.
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It is quite unusual for such a noteworthy matchup to be played on Feb. 15. Notre Dame has never opened a conference schedule prior to March 2 (2004 vs. Virginia Tech). It is the first ACC league game of 2014 and very nearly the first conference game for any league in the nation. Bridging Notre Dame’s BIG EAST and ACC tenures, along with being the only other Catholic FBS school, the Eagles are a fitting first ACC foe for the Fighting Irish.
“Our program hasn’t seen BC since we were both in the BIG EAST in 2005 so it’s pretty exciting to welcome them back here and to get started,” Halfpenny said. “We’re one of the very first conference matchups in the entire country and it’s neat to think about. It gives us a great chance to see where we are.”
In the short term, the Irish are in a great place, standing at 1-0 after a record-breaking 25-1 win over Cincinnati on Wednesday. In the long term, the Irish are in an even better place feeling right at home in the nation’s top women’s lacrosse conference both on and off of the field – one that represents all of the balance the entire University of Notre Dame exemplifies.