Barbara Sullivan and Liz O'Sullivan, two catalysts of the Irish resurgence, celebrate the win at Syracuse on Tuesday.

Notre Dame Rides Momentum Into Michigan Game

April 11, 2015

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Everyone in the Carrier Dome knew they were watching a decisive moment in both the game, and possibly the seasons for two teams, unfold before them with 1:45 to play in overtime as Notre Dame held a 12-11 lead over Syracuse. Kayla Treanor, a first-team All-American in 2014, stood before Irish goalkeeper Liz O’Sullivan with a free position shot from the top of the eight-meter fan.

Treanor tormented the Irish a year ago, recording 12 points on seven goals and five assists in a pair of Orange wins. The junior charged to the net and shot the ball low to her right. O’Sullivan stepped to her left and blocked the shot, her eighth save after halftime. The shot ricocheted across the goal mouth and O’Sullivan’s Irish teammate Barbara Sullivan used her 5-foot-10 frame to fight off 5-2 Orange attacker Devon Collins for the ground ball.

The Irish battled unrelenting Orange pressure to maintain possession for the remainder of the game and claim their first-ever win at the Carrier Dome in nine visits. It gave the Irish their second top-seven road win in four days, joining a 14-4 victory at Virginia on April 4, and their third ranked win in as many weeks, joining a win over No. 15 Ohio State on March 21.

Once 3-4 on the season, when the final horn sounded in Syracuse, greeted by a jubilant celebration by the Kelly green-clad Irish, Notre Dame found itself at 8-5 and just one victory shy of the nine-win plateau that will ensure both a .500 record and consideration for another NCAA tournament berth.

“It all started when we came home against Virginia Tech and had an opportunity to redefine what we want to be and what we want to be about,” head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “This back half of the season, we’ve seen the juniors take more ownership out of their positions on the team. We’ve seen the seniors start to see that time will run out. They don’t get another season. They are playing with more of a sense of urgency.

“It’s that natural process of a team growing up. It’s been fun to see it happen right before your eyes on the field. We’ve been young for years here, relying on freshmen and sophomores in some of the most important positions on the field. I think that we’ve naturally progressed into these mature, older girls. Nothing can be better defined than by seeing the score sheet after Syracuse. Stephanie Toy had a hat trick and Rachel Sexton had an all-star day (hat trick). Stephanie Peragallo had a banner day (career-high five caused turnovers). You’re starting to see the older kids in the second half of their careers have that light bulb go on. That’s why we’re seeing some of these things.”

Halfpenny gives ample credit for that mindset adjustment to Sullivan who is finally back to full-strength after missing almost all of 2014 with a back injury which has finally fully healed. The senior captain had a game-high five ground balls in the win at Syracuse and tied the school record at Virginia with nine draw controls.

“It took half of the season to fully get her back with it,” she said. “Once Barbara found her confidence, she can’t help but be a natural leader. She’s earned that. When her confidence is that high and she plays with a will to win and the Notre Dame spirit, everybody follows. You can’t see Barbara Sullivan putting it all out there and you not (do the same).”

Notre Dame’s first shot at that critical ninth win comes at Arlotta Stadium on Sunday at 1 p.m. against a foe familiar to Irish fans everywhere but new to the women’s lacrosse world – Michigan. Tomorrow’s will be the first meeting between the Irish and the Wolverines, a fledgling program in its second year of existence. The Irish will return the game to Michigan Stadium next season.

The Wolverines enter at 5-8 but have weapons. Three Michigan players, Jess Angerman (27 and 36), Kim Coughlan (28, 32) and Anna Schueler (25, 32) have accumulated at least 25 goals and 30 points on the year while the Irish have just two players who have eclipsed each plateau in Cortney Fortunato (42, 56) and Sexton (27, 31). This year, the Wolverines have more ground balls (247 vs. 222) than the Irish as well.

“Their record doesn’t show how athletic they are and how hard they fight,” Halfpenny said of Sunday’s foe from Ann Arbor. “They lead the Big Ten in caused turnovers which shows their scrappy, tenacious, athletic style. They’re young and you can see those growing pains while they’re figuring it all out, but they do some really impressive things. “The name is a great rivalry. Throw the names Notre Dame and Michigan out there, forget the sport, and you’ve got a great rivalry already in people’s heads. We’re excited to start something new there and we want to start this off on the right foot.”

If it does start off on the right foot for the Irish, a season goal will officially be met and, given a lofty RPI and quality wins, Notre Dame will be able to pencil May dates into its 2015 schedule.

“We are on a mission,” Halfpenny said. “We’re not done yet. We’re focused on getting our ninth win that will get us to at least .500 which is the requirement for NCAAs. These big wins have been awesome, but we’re still not NCAA-eligible. We only have eight wins and at least 17 games on our schedule. We have to get nine wins. That’s what matters, so we aren’t resting on our laurels at all.”