Liz O'Sullivan made seven saves to help the Irish beat Ohio State, 13-5, on March 21.

Rivals Irish and Buckeyes Battle in NCAA First Round

May 8, 2015

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Notre Dame, Northwestern and Ohio State have long fought a regional rivalry as the best women’s lacrosse teams in the Midwest. Recently, Louisville has started to enter the fray and is making its second NCAA tournament appearance in a row. The four teams will get a chance to settle it on the field when it matters the most as the quartet comprises one of the more intriguing first and second round pods of the NCAA tournament.

Northwestern will face Louisville at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Friday followed by a matchup between the Irish and Buckeyes, expected to begin around 7 p.m. EDT with the winners facing off at 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday for a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals. The Wildcats will play host to all of this weekend’s action at the perpetually windy Lakeside Field in Evanston, Illinois, located a matter of feet from the shores of Lake Michigan.

Out of the six possible pairings of the four schools, the only matchup which was not contested this season was Louisville vs. Ohio State. The teams are familiar with each others’ styles and personnel. The teams have all played at Lakeside Field in the recent past. This mutual familiarity mixed with the pressure of an NCAA tournament will ensure for a thrilling weekend of lacrosse in Evanston.

Making its 10th NCAA tournament appearance, and sixth trip to Evanston out of those 10 NCAA berths, the Irish hope to rekindle the spark that led the team to a 13-5 win over Ohio State on March 21 at Arlotta Stadium. This class of Irish seniors, making its school-record fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, know that Friday’s contest will likely not be so lopsided. The Buckeyes turned heads at last weekend’s Big Ten championship, upsetting previously-undefeated Maryland to advance to the championship game. Notre Dame will have its hands full on Friday night as it aims to face the Wildcats or Cardinals on Sunday.

– Notre Dame and Ohio State meet for the 21st time on Friday. This will match Syracuse for the longest series in Irish women’s lacrosse history.
– The Irish claimed a 13-5 win at Arlotta Stadium on March 21 in the most recent meeting. Cortney Fortunato had four goals and an assist while Rachel Sexton netted a hat trick to pace the Irish offense.
– This will be the second postseason meeting between the sides. Notre Dame’s first-ever NCAA tournament game was an 11-7 win over the Buckeyes at home on May 9, 2002.
– The inaugural meeting between the teams came on April 6, 1997, Notre Dame’s first varsity season, when Ohio State claimed an 11-7 victory at Notre Dame.

– Notre Dame has claimed a school-record three wins this year against top 10 teams.
– Remarkably, all three of the wins have come on the road and since April 4.
– The Irish defeated No. 4 Virginia, 14-4, on April 4 in Charlottesville and then flew north to down No. 7 Syracuse, 12-11 in overtime, on April 7 at the Carrier Dome. The Irish returned to Charlottesville and beat No. 5 Virginia, 7-6, in the ACC quarterfinals on April 23.
– Prior to 2015, only once had Notre Dame claimed two top-seven road wins in the same season, let alone in consecutive contests. The 2008 team captured victories at No. 7 Duke (12-8 on April 2) and No. 7 Georgetown (10-8 on April 12).
– Notre Dame had claimed two top ten wins, regardless of venue, in a season four times before 2015, most recently in 2014 with wins over No. 4 Northwestern and No. 7 Duke.
– The first win over Virginia marked the highest-ranked win in school history on an opponent’s true home field. The Irish also won at No. 4 Northwestern, 9-8, on March 5, 2014, but that game was played off campus at the Lake Barrington Fieldhouse in Lake Barrington, Illinois due to frigid weather.

– Notre Dame is competing in the NCAA Tournament for the school-record fourth consecutive year and the seventh time in the last eight years.
– The Irish are making their 10th NCAA Tournament appearance overall and stand at 5-9 all-time in the event.
– The Irish are playing at Northwestern for the sixth time in their 10 NCAA appearances. The Irish previously played in Evanston in 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013.
– Notre Dame is 6-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament home games. The Irish are 0-6 on the road and 0-2 at neutral sites.
– Notre Dame’s best finish was in 2006 when it advanced to the final four, held at Boston University’s Nickerson Field.

May 9: Notre Dame 11, Ohio State 7
May 12: Princeton 11, Notre Dame 5
May 13: Northwestern 10, Notre Dame 8
May 14: Notre Dame 16, Cornell 8
May 20: Notre Dame 12, Georgetown 9
May 26: Dartmouth 14, Notre Dame 8 (at Boston, Mass.)
May 11: Northwestern 15, Notre Dame 7
May 10: Notre Dame 19, Vanderbilt 13
May 16: North Carolina 16, Notre Dame 10
May 15: Northwestern 19, Notre Dame 7
May 12: Northwestern 12, Notre Dame 7
May 10: Stanford 8, Notre Dame 7 (at Evanston, Ill.)
May 9: Notre Dame 18, High Point 4
May 11: Duke 10, Notre Dame 8
Home team in italics

– Preaching a “fast, aggressive and passionate” defensive scheme, Notre Dame has regularly been among the best in the country in caused turnovers under head coach Christine Halfpenny and 2015 is no exception.
– The Irish lead the ACC and rank third nationally by causing 11.22 turnovers per game entering this week.
– Notre Dame is vying to finish in the top 10 nationally in caused turnovers for the fourth consecutive season under Halfpenny and lead its league for the third year in a row.
– The 2014 Irish topped the ACC and ranked sixth nationally with 10.53 caused turnovers per game.
– The 2013 Irish led the BIG EAST and ranked third nationally with 11.12 caused turnovers per game.
– The 2012 Irish were ninth in the country with 9.39 caused turnovers per game and third in the BIG EAST.
– Individually, Notre Dame has each of the top four in the league in caused turnovers, Barbara Sullivan (34), Cortney Fortunato (28), Stephanie Peragallo (23) and Casey Pearsall (22).
– Of the 31 players who have appeared in a game for the Irish this year, 22 have caused at least one turnover.

– An off-shoot of the aggressive blue-collar defensive tactics that have helped Notre Dame rank highly in caused turnovers, Notre Dame is also strong on ground balls.
– The Irish entered the NCAA tournament second in the ACC, scooping up 17.17 ground balls per game.
– Notre Dame led the ACC in ground balls last year at 21.42 per game, ranking third nationally.
– The Irish led the BIG EAST in ground balls in 2013 at 19.12 per game, ranking fifth nationally.

– Notre Dame is presently ranked No. 12 in the IWLCA Coaches poll and stands at No. 17 in the Inside Lacrosse media poll. Lacrosse Magazine did not update its poll this week.
– The Irish have been ranked anywhere from No. 10 to No. 19 by the coaches in 2015.
– Notre Dame has risen to No. 8 and fallen to No. 18 in the Inside Lacrosse poll.
– The Irish are 3-8 against ranked opposition.
– The NCAA first round game against Ohio State will mark the seventh time Notre Dame has played a ranked team in the last eight games. Six of those seven ranked opponents were ranked in the top 10 (North Carolina – twice, Virginia – twice, Syracuse and Northwestern).
– Under head coach Christine Halfpenny, Notre Dame has never lost to an unranked team.

– Notre Dame’s starting lineup has not fluctuated much in 2015. Nine players have started all 18 games (Alex Dalton, Cortney Fortunato, Leah Gallagher, Caitlin Gargan, Liz O’Sullivan, Stephanie Peragallo, Rachel Sexton, Barbara Sullivan and Stephanie Toy).
– That sum had been 10 through the first 15 games until Casey Pearsall was injured.

– Notre Dame put a young team on the field in 2014 as nine of the team’s 12 most frequent starters were either freshmen or sophomores.
– Players who will return in 2015 accounted for 295 of the team’s 334 points (88-percent) in 2014.
– This trend will continue into 2016 as the Irish have a small, five-member, senior class this year. Notre Dame is expected to welcome back players who have accounted for 277 of its 297 points (93-percent) this year. Caitlin Gargan has 18 of those points.

– The Irish have taken full advantage of its free position attempts in 2015, scoring on 48.1 percent of them (50 of 104).
– The 50 free position goals are the most at Notre Dame since the 2009 team scored 54.
– Not surprisingly, Cortney Fortunato tops the team in free position goals with 16, coming on 26 shots for a 62 percent success rate.
Rachel Sexton is second on the squad with seven free position goals, coming on 12 attempts for a 58 percent success rate. Stephanie Toy (six for 12) is third in free position goals on the Irish.

– In 10 of Notre Dame’s 18 games this year, its opposition was held to nine goals or less.
– The 10 single-digit defensive efforts are the most since 2004 when 12 Notre Dame foes were held to single digit scoring.
– The school record is 13, set in 2002.
– Not surprisingly, Notre Dame won eight of the 10 games when holding its opposition to single digit goals. The Irish have won 34 of their last 37 such games, including a 9-0 mark last year. One of those exceptions though is the 9-8 loss to North Carolina on March 29.
– The Irish held an NCAA-seeded team to single digits four times this year, holding No. 2 North Carolina to nine (March 29), No. 6 Stony Brook to nine (March 10) and No. 7 Virginia to both four (April 4) and six (April 23).

– Eight Notre Dame players have recorded a hat trick this season, reflecting the team’s diverse attack that has aided it, particularly when teams have over-committed to guarding Cortney Fortunato.
– Fortunato leads the squad with 10 hat tricks on the year through 18 games. In her All-American freshman season, Fortunato had just nine in 19 games.
Rachel Sexton has five hat tricks on the season and the Irish have gone 4-1 in those games, losing only on Feb. 20 at Stanford.
Heidi Annaheim (three), Grace Muller (two) and Stephanie Toy (two) also have multiple hat tricks on the season. The Irish have yet to lose when one of them records a hat trick.
Caitlin Gargan, Kiera McMullan and Casey Pearsall round out the Irish hat trick roll for 2015 with one each.
– All eight of those players have reached double digits in goals this year.

– Three team captains were named prior to the start of the 2015 season, Leah Gallagher, Shauna Pugliese and Margaret Smith and Barbara Sullivan.
– Sullivan also served as a captain in 2014. It marks the second year in a row where the Irish have had a two-year captain. Margaret Smith served in that role in both 2013 and 2014.

– On May 7, Barbara Sullivan was named as one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award. She was the only defensive player among the five finalists on either the men’s or women’s sides of the ballot.
– Sullivan is the third Notre Dame finalist, joining Crysti Foote in 2006 and Jillian Byers in 2009. Oddly, all three will be in Evanston, Illinois this weekend. Byers is now an assistant coach for Ohio State while Foote is an assistant coach at Louisville.
Matt Kavanagh of the Irish men’s team was also named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, making Notre Dame and Syracuse the lone schools with a finalist of each gender in 2015.
– It is the first time that the Irish have had both a men’s and women’s finalist in the same season.
– Notre Dame has never won a Tewaaraton Award.
– Sullivan leads the ACC in caused turnovers (1.83 per game) while also ranking fourth in ground balls (2.22 per game) and fifth in draw controls (3.94 per game). Sullivan has set Irish school records this year for both single season (73) and career (194) draw controls while matching her single game school record of nine in Notre Dame’s 14-4 win at No. 4 Virginia on April 4. She is currently fifth in career ground balls and sixth in career caused turnovers.

Barbara Sullivan (first team) and Cortney Fortunato (second team) were named All-ACC on April 22 in a vote of the league’s coaches.
– In 2014, Margaret Smith was the lone Irish player to be named All-ACC making the league’s second team. Smith went on to be named a first-team All-American and was named the co-national Defender of the Year by Inside Lacrosse.
– This is Sullivan’s third all-conference honor. She was named first-team All-BIG EAST in 2013 and second-team All-BIG EAST in 2012.
– It is Fortunato’s first all-conference recognition as the third-team All-American and was omitted from the 2014 All-ACC teams.

Barbara Sullivan earned a spot on the ACC all-tournament team as she helped the Irish defeat Virginia to advance to the semifinals before falling to North Carolina.
– Sullivan had six ground balls, nine draw controls and five caused turnovers during the two games in Charlottesville, Virginia.
– It marks the second year in a row that the Irish have had an ACC all-tournament selection. Caitlin Gargan made the squad in 2014 for her three-goal, three-assist game in a quarterfinal loss to No. 1 Syracuse.

– Both Cortney Fortunato and Barbara Sullivan were named to the nominee list for the Tewaaraton Trophy on April 23.
– It is the third time that Notre Dame has had multiple nominees, a feat last seen in 2009 (Shaylyn Blaney and Jillian Byers).
– Sullivan joins Byers (2008, 2009) as the schools’ only two-time nominees.
– The Irish have had a Tewaaraton nominee in each of the past four years with Maggie Tamasitis (2012), Sullivan (2013) and Margaret Smith (2014) all advancing this stage of the competition where they are chosen as one of the top 25 players in the country.

Barbara Sullivan was named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year on May 5 in a vote of the elite conference’s coaches.
– Sullivan is the first Notre Dame player to claim a league’s positional player of the year award outright since 2008 when Caitlin McKinney was named the BIG EAST Midfielder of the Year. Jillian Byers shared the 2009 BIG EAST Attack Player of the Year accolade.

– An All-American as a freshman in 2014, Cortney Fortunato has increased her production both offensively and defensively as a senior.
– Fortunato is second in the ACC with her 54 goals this year and stands fourth with her 71 points.
– Fortunato’s 54 goals are the most by a Notre Dame player since Jillian Byers scored a school-record 83 in 2009.
– Just as impressively, Fortunato ranks second in the ACC with 28 turnovers despite only playing on two-thirds of the field.
– Fortunato also ranks third on the Irish with her 25 ground balls and fourth with 17 draw controls.

– Sophomore Alex Dalton has done fine work this year stopping opponents on the defensive end, rushing up field in transition and helping the offense.
– Dalton has chipped in 17 caused turnovers and 38 ground balls to the defensive end, 37 draw controls in the midfield, plus six goals and three assists for nine point in the offensive theatre.
– Dalton has an active streak of eight straight games with multiple ground balls, starting with a five-ground ball effort against North Carolina on March 29.

– Junior Rachel Sexton is second on the Irish with both her 33 goals and 38 points on the year behind only Cortney Fortunato, to whom she plays a fine foil.
– Sexton’s contributions are crucial for the success of the Irish overall. Notre Dame is 9-2 this year when Sexton has at least two points and just 1-6 when she tallies just a single point or nothing. The lone Notre Dame win was on April 4 at Virginia when Sexton had just a single goal. The losses came when she scored five times in a Feb. 20 loss at Stanford and when she tallied twice in an ACC semifinal loss to North Carolina on April 24.
– Her hat trick against Ohio State on March 21 was a key to victory in the earlier matchup of the midwest rivals in 2015.

– Physical two-way midfielder Casey Pearsall has been a load for opponents to handle in all areas of the field this year.
– Pearsall started each of the first 15 games before suffering an ankle injury during the April 16 game against Northwestern, leaving a void in the Irish lineup.
– Pearsall remains tied for the team lead in assists with her 17 on the year, a sum now matched by Cortney Fortunato. Pearsall also has 16 goals on the year for 33 points, third on the squad despite missing three and a half games.
– Pearsall remains second to Barbara Sullivan with 42 draw controls, is fourth on the squad with 22 caused turnovers and claims 23 ground balls. Pearsall and Sullivan are the only players with at least 20 ground balls, draw controls and caused turnovers.

– The Irish have several ties to Chicagoland.
Katherine Eilers is a native of Winnetka and a graduate of Loyola Academy. She has played in all 18 games with five starts, scoring four goals with a pair of assists for six points while grabbing 17 ground balls and controlling 10 draws. Eilers’ father, Pat, a Notre Dame alumnus, played for the Chicago Bears in 1995 and earned his M.B.A. from Northwestern.
Anne Dooley, also a Loyola Academy graduate, has seen action in one game for Notre Dame this year. She is the younger sister for former Notre Dame player Grace Dooley (2011-14).

– While it is not unusual for men’s and women’s lacrosse teams on the same campus to be friendly, the relationship between the teams at Notre Dame is literally like family.
– Freshman Caroline Doyle’s older brother Conor Doyle is second on the men’s team with his 17 assists and 41 points this year while ranking third with 24 goals. He is the reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Week and a team captain.
– Junior Rachel Sexton’s younger brother John has appeared in all 12 games this year for the Irish as a reserve long-stick midfielder and defenseman. His 24 ground balls ties for fourth on the team.
– Freshman Rory Byrne has spent half of her life around the Notre Dame men’s team as her father, Gerry, is in his ninth year as an assistant coach. Her bother, Pierre, joined the team as a freshman this year and has seen action in six games, scoring twice.
– Irish men’s midfielder Trevor Brosco’s sister Kaitlyn played attack for the Irish women’s team from 2011-14. Trevor has appeared in nine games this year and has scored four times.
– Notre Dame’s men’s team earned the No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament and opens play against Towson at 5 p.m. EDT on Saturday at Arlotta Stadium.

HEAD COACH Christine Halfpenny
– Christine Halfpenny is 45-27 (.625) in her fourth season as head coach at Notre Dame, having led the Fighting Irish to the NCAA Tournament in each of her four seasons.
– Halfpenny came from William & Mary where the Tribe won 10 games in each of the final four of her five years as head coach in Williamsburg.
– Before becoming a head coach, she worked as a collegiate assistant coach at Duke, Virginia Tech (her alma mater) and Brown.