May 3, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – For a school-record fourth consecutive year, the Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team has earned a berth in the NCAA championship. The Irish will be seeing familiar faces on familiar soil as they head to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois to face Ohio State at 6 p.m. CDT on Friday at Lakeside Field. Eighth-seeded Northwestern will face Louisville in Friday’s other first round matchup with the winners playing at 1 p.m. CDT on Sunday.
The Irish have faced each of the other three teams in the Northwestern bracket this year, including a 13-5 victory over the Buckeyes on March 21 at Arlotta Stadium. Notre Dame fell to both the Wildcats (10-9 on April 16) and Cardinals (10-8 on April 19) this season. The visit to Northwestern will mark the sixth time in Notre Dame’s 10 NCAA appearances that the Irish have been sent to Evanston, joining the 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013 seasons. Postseason rematches are familiar to Notre Dame. Every NCAA tournament appearance by Notre Dame has featured at least one regular-season rematch.
It is the 10th trip by the Irish to the NCAA championship, highlighted by a visit to the 2006 final four. Notre Dame has now earned a spot in the NCAA field in each of head coach Christine Halfpenny’s four years at the helm. The previous record for consecutive NCAA bids was three (2008-10). Combining these runs, Notre Dame has been an NCAA championship participant in seven of the past eight years.
The Irish and Buckeyes have faced off 20 times, the second-longest series in school history, trailing only the 21 meetings with Syracuse. The Irish hold an 11-9 edge in the series, including a win in the only NCAA tournament meeting between the sides, an 11-7 Irish triumph on May 9, 2002 the Notre Dame’s first NCAA game. Notre Dame’s 18 meetings with Northwestern are tied for the fourth-most between Notre Dame and any school. The Wildcats lead that series, 15-3, including a 4-0 mark in the NCAAs with each of those four games coming in Evanston. The Irish have played Louisville in each of the past seven years. Notre Dame leads the series, 6-1, but that record masks the competitive nature of the budding rivalry as each of the past six games have been decided by three goals or less.
The Irish enter the NCAA tournament at 10-8 after a torrid month of April which saw the Irish defeat three top 10 teams on their respective home fields. The Irish downed No. 4 Virginia, 14-4, on April 4 in Charlottesville, No. 7 Syracuse, 12-11 in overtime, on April 7 at the Carrier Dome and then beat then-No. 5 Virginia again, 7-6, in the ACC tournament quarterfinals back at the Cavaliers’ KlÃƒÆ’Â¶ckner Stadium. Notre Dame had never previously beaten more than two top 10 teams in the same season, let alone in the same month or away from its home field.
The Irish have been led on the field this year by their pair of Tewaaraton Award nominees, Cortney Fortunato and Barbara Sullivan. Fortunato leads the ACC with 54 goals while Sullivan tops the esteemed conference in caused turnovers with 1.83 per game. As a unit, Notre Dame’s pressuring defense leads the league, ranking third nationally, with 11.22 caused turnovers per game.
The Irish and Cardinals are two of the seven Atlantic Coast Conference schools selected for the NCAA field. Five of the eight seeded- teams are from the ACC in No. 2 North Carolina, No. 3 Duke, No. 4 Syracuse, No. 5 Boston College and No. 7 Virginia. ACC teams went 57-15 this year in non-conference games.
“We’re excited to be one of the 26 teams that’s left,” Halfpenny said. “We’re excited about the bracket because it is so familiar for us. It’s a bracket that has two from the Big Ten and two ACCs and could be, in all likelihood, one of the toughest brackets out there because we all have beat on each other during the season. Ohio State and Louisville are the only two that haven’t played each other this year.
“We’re excited about getting to see Ohio State again. Both teams have changed since we last saw each other and they just had that major win against Maryland (beating the No. 1 Terrapins in the Big Ten semifinals on Friday, May 1). We’re excited. We respect these opponents. We believe that we are the four best in the Midwest. This is an opportunity to duke it out and see who will come out on top now when it really matters.”
Another element of this draw while pleases Halfpenny is the proximity. Final examinations at the University begin on Monday. The Irish will not have to leave for Evanston until Thursday, allowing for maximum amount of on-campus preparation for finals.
“It’s a short bus trip to familiar surroundings with familiar opponents,” she said. “We’re excited.”