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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame falls to North Carolina in top-10 showdown

No. 5 Notre Dame rallied early in the second half in their top-ten matchup with No. 3 North Carolina this past Sunday, but ultimately fell to the Tar Heels by a final score of 14-8.

After falling into a 10-3 hole with 29:11 remaining in the contest, the Irish (10-3, 3-3 ACC) scored four straight goals in 12 minutes to shrink their deficit to 3. Four different Irish players scored during the stretch, including junior midfielder and leading scorer Cortney Fortunato, who tallied her 39th goal of the season. Senior attacker Rachel Sexton also scored twice for the Irish.

The Tar Heels (10-2, 4-0 ACC) found widespread success on the offensive attack. After the Irish tied the game, 1-1, just over three minutes into the first half after the first of Sexton’s two goals on the evening, the Tar Heels answered with an offensive run of their own, scoring eight unanswered goals to take a commanding 9-1 lead. Five players scored multiple goals for the Tar Heels in the game, who outshot Notre Dame, 18-8, in the first half. The Irish managed to narrow the shot margin in the second period, outshooting the Tar Heels 13-10, but their offensive pressure was not enough to give them a lead.

The Irish also struggled with penalties throughout the afternoon. Notre Dame committed 48 fouls to North Carolina's 20, and the Irish also earned six yellow cards on the day, including one issued with 28 seconds remaining in the first half. Despite this disparity, the Tar Heels managed only one goal from the free position.

Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny praised the level of her team’s competition after the loss, claiming that she would have liked to see her squad assert themselves more readily early in the match.

“We are playing in the best conference in the country at the part of our season where it's top-10 team after top-10 team, and we didn't come out the way that we needed to come out to assert ourselves as a top team," said Halfpenny. “We had to play from behind, and that makes it a little bit tougher mentally.”

Still, Halfpenny spoke highly of her team’s ability to fight back after falling into such a significant deficit early in the game.

“I'm proud of my team and the way that they fought to make it a three-goal game,” Halfpenny said. “We weren't able to make it any closer than that. We have to assert ourselves and stay consistent to convert some of the possessions. I'm confident in this group that they will respond. Their on-field leadership is tremendous and they believe in who we are and where we are going."

Irish captain and graduate student defender Barbara Sullivan continued to shine in her role despite the loss. Sullivan led the team in ground balls claimed and shared the team lead for draw controls with junior midfielder Alex Dalton. Sullivan’s 37 ground balls and 47 draw controls also pace the team on the season. Halfpenny praised Sullivan’s play as well as her leadership after Sunday's loss.

Junior midfielder Alex Dalton looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 16-4 victory over Virginia on March 19 at Arlotta Stadium.
Grace Tourville | The Observer
Junior midfielder Alex Dalton looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 16-4 victory over Virginia on March 19 at Arlotta Stadium.

“I can't say enough about Barbara Sullivan," Halfpenny said. “She's leading the team the way we're asking her. … She leaves it all out there. Our captains and other players are doing the same thing. We just need to continue to grow and learn how be a top team."

Sunday’s loss brings the Irish to an even 3-3 in the ACC, while North Carolina remains tied with in-state rival Duke at the top of the board with a perfect 4-0 conference record. The Irish have only one conference game remaining in the regular season — a home matchup with conference co-leader Duke on April 16.

The Irish conclude their three-game road trip next weekend when they travel to Evanston, Illinois, to square off against Northwestern on Sunday.