Feb. 5, 2017
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The No. 8 University of Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team (0-1) suffered its first season-opening loss under head coach Christine Halfpenny, falling 14-13 to No. 9 Northwestern (2-0) on Sunday at Loftus Sports Center.
Notre Dame drops to 18-3 all-time in the opening game of the season after playing a ranked opponent for just the sixth time in program history.
How It Happened
The Irish and Wildcats opened the game with a pair of goals, but Northwestern would eventually go on a 6-0 run to take an 8-2 lead at the 13:50 mark in the first half. The Irish responded with a 7-2 run, featuring two goals each from seniors Casey Pearsall and Cortney Fortunato and two from freshman Savannah Buchanan, to close out the half.
Notre Dame trailed, 10-9, at halftime, when the team made adjustments defensively. The Irish went on to limit the Wildcats to just four goals in the second half.
“At times, I feel like there was a little bit of ugly. If we could take out that first 20 minutes, we could stat it up and see what we did there,” Halfpenny said. “That’s the most encouraging piece of this. That’s two top-10 teams battling, super physical game, but also super talented game at both ends of the field. I’m really, really proud of how we competed, how we battled. It’s a typical first game; you saw a little bit of good, a little bit of bad.”
Buchanan’s spark in the first half was just the start of her run. The freshman added two goals in the second half, including a goal with just 1:52 on the clock to cut the deficit to 14-12.
Halfpenny said Buchanan’s performance resembled that of her veterans, Pearsall, Fortunato and senior Grace Muller.
“Everybody can see she’s certainly living up to all the hype,” she said. “Her stat line is just incredible. She’s a game-changer. Her smart and patient shooting was outstanding today.”
A Northwestern foul with 1:04 remaining gave Muller a free position attempt, one of seven in the half for the Irish (2-7). Muller capitalized on the Wildcats mistake, netting her second goal of the day and making the score 14-13.
Down one goal with 64 seconds to go, the 90-second shot clock was no longer a factor, and Notre Dame had to hope for a Northwestern turnover to get the ball back. Pearsall eventually caused a turnover with five seconds left, but that was not enough to overcome the feisty Wildcats.
Notre Dame’s sophomore goalkeeper Samantha Giacolone finished the game with seven saves, just three fewer than Northwestern’s Mallory Weisse (10).
“We have a lot of the pieces to the puzzle, if not all of them,” Halfpenny said. “That’s awesome — the way our seniors played and showed their experience, their determination — that’s only going to bode well for this program going forward. When you start off with this kind of test, the sky’s the limit for them.
“I’m proud of our effort. I’m proud of this team. I love this team. I love this team. They care so much. They sacrifice so much. From top to bottom, this one’s not going to sit well with them, and I think that’s good. It’s a good reminder for them for the future. We’re looking forward to our next opportunity.”
Stat of the Game
Over the past several weeks, Notre Dame focused on maintaining possession of the ball, winning the draw and picking up ground balls. On Sunday, it did just that, tying Northwestern with 14 draw controls apiece.
Pearsall collected eight draw controls, falling just shy of the program-high and her career-high nine. Pearsall had previously recorded nine draw controls on March 23, 2014, joining Barbara Sullivan (twice) and Kaki Orr as the only Irish players to accomplish the feat.
“There were so many good things happening out there,” Halfpenny said. “This is the year we said our midfielders are really strong, and the potential we saw actually came true on paper. You can’t say enough about how great that midfield did.”
Pearsall’s eight draw controls on Sunday gives her 130 in her career and moves her past Shannon Burke (124) and Alissa Moser (126) to fifth place in the Irish record book.
Notre Dame returns to action at 7 p.m. ET on Friday, February 10, when it hosts Liberty at Loftus Sports Center. Admission to the game is free for all fans.
Megan Golden, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since August of 2016. In her role, she coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women’s lacrosse and cross country/track and field programs. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Golden is a 2014 graduate of Saint Mary’s College and former Irish women’s basketball manager. Prior to arriving at Notre Dame, she worked in public relations with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.