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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

ND prepares for two at home

No. 6 Notre Dame will hope to continue its strong start to the season tonight, when the Irish host Colorado.

The Buffaloes (2-0) have opened their season with two wins for the first time in the three-year history of the program, after beating Denver 11-10 and Fresno State 18-4, and are currently receiving votes in the national polls. Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said she was very impressed by the Colorado program.

“They’re a really impressive team,” Halfpenny said. “A three-year-old program, sound head coach, a solid coaching staff. They’re playing in a conference that sent two to the NCAA tournament last year in Stanford and USC, so they haven’t shied away from competition. Even out of conference they’ve been playing highly-rated teams, Northwestern being one of them, and they’ve just steadily been improving. They’ve just steadily been moving in the right direction. They’re fast, they’re scrappy, lots of emotion, they have a lot of great emotion and they’re in the hunt to continue to improve.

Irish junior attack Cortney Fortunato surveys her options during Notre Dame’s 14-4 win over Boston College on Saturday.
Grace Tourville | The Observer
Irish junior attack Cortney Fortunato surveys her options during Notre Dame’s 14-4 win over Boston College on Saturday.

“They’re a solid 1v1 team, there’s a couple of stars on the team in [junior attack/midfielder Cali Castagnola] and [sophomore midfielder Darby Kiernan], a strong midfielder in [junior Marie Moore] that we’ve been scouting out and getting aware of, but for us we have a couple of keys,” she said. “We’re looking to attack, continuing to play our game is important and then the ground ball battle is going to be really important against a team that’s so scrappy and has nice speed. And then playing our game on offense and making sure we focus on one-another, our high-octane and off-ball movement is going to be a big key to our success tomorrow.

“I think that using our speed and our depth is going to be important,” she said. “The transition’s going to be massive, and winning that ground ball war, that’s something that’s been huge in our last three wins, then focusing on our off-ball movement which is creating a lot of opportunities for our attack, those will all be massive keys to beating Colorado.”

The Irish offense, led by junior attack Cortney Fortunato, who leads the nation in points, will be attempting to put the ball past first-team all-MPSF junior goalkeeper Paige Soenksen, who had a .489 save percentage last year. Halfpenny singled out Soenksen as a key part of the Buffaloes team.

“Another big focus is their goalkeeper, they have a very very good goalkeeper,” Halfpenny said. “She’s a strong goalie. I think she finished last year with something around a 48 or 49 percent save percentage, which is very good, especially with the competition that we’re playing against. She’s a nice tall lefty that plays a different style than we’re used to playing against every day. A lot of credit to her and what she’s done so far in getting this program some attention after they knocked Denver off in their season-opening win.”

Notre Dame (3-0, 1-0 ACC) comes into the game after a comfortable 14-4 victory over No. 14 Boston College. Halfpenny credited her team captains, graduate student defender and Tewaaraton Award finalist Barbara Sullivan, senior defender Stephanie Peragallo and senior midfielders Brie Custis and Stephanie Toy, for instilling a winning culture in the team.

“I think our captains have done such a wonderful job of enjoying the moment in our first three games,” Halfpenny said. “Every second you can see us embracing the moment, embracing the game. They’re playing 60 minutes for exactly what they are. They’re not taking it lightly or taking advantage of the time they have together. The pure exhaustion at the end of the game is very evident, because not only are they playing really hard, but they’re playing with such great passion and they’re playing with their hearts out there together. So the credit goes to the captains who are putting the effort and emotion into the moment and the games which is making those games so exciting to lead up to.

“That said, they’re also enjoying it when they’re supposed to enjoy it, and then shutting that off, moving on and resetting for the next opponent and again getting back to focusing on ourselves and getting better,” Halfpenny said. “I think that that's the biggest takeaway. That’s what’s a big difference-maker for the team this year: their maturity and understanding the road ahead has been massive, but taking advantage of these victories, even if they’re little, like a ground ball pickup or a save or even just forcing the team to throw the ball out of bounds, they are really living in the moment right now, so I think that being able to sustain that is the biggest key right now.”

The game will begin at 7 p.m. tonight at Loftus Sports Center. Notre Dame will also be in action Sunday at noon when it hosts California.