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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame's eight-game winning streak comes to an end, loses three straight

No. 16 Notre Dame’s eight-game win streak came to a sudden end over spring break, as the Irish (8-4, 0-1 ACC) dropped three straight on the road.

The first of the struggles came against No. 6 Princeton on March 11, when the Irish fell 14-8 to the Tigers (5-0, 1-0 Ivy League). While senior All-American attack Cortney Fortunato picked up a hat-trick, the rest of the Irish offense struggled to contribute. Freshman midfielder Savannah Buchanan netted two goals, while midfielders senior Casey Pearsall, junior Molly Cobb and sophomore Samantha Lynch each picked up one goal. Statistically, the Irish and the Tigers were evenly matched on the defensive side of the ball, as the Irish won the caused turnover battle, 7-6, but trailed Princeton in ground balls, 19-17. Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said the team’s inability to score, a theme that recurred throughout the week, was what led to the loss.

“Our scoring production was not nearly to our standards,” Halfpenny said. “Our goal is to be putting quality shots on cage in every possession and trying to score double-digit goals, and we weren’t able to do that.”

The Irish went on to play No. 15 Towson on the road. Forced to battle below-freeing weather and heavy winds, the Irish fell into a four-goal hole twice during the first period. But Notre Dame rallied in the second period, culminating in an 8-7 lead with 15:43 left in the game after a run of five straight goals. Lynch and senior attack Grace Muller each picked up hat tricks, aided by Pearsall, who scored one goal and added six assists to tie her career-high of seven points. However, the Tigers (6-3, 0-0 Colonial) rallied late and ultimately defeated the Irish, 14-11.

Notre Dame finished its spring break road trip at No. 20 Virginia. The team was unable to stop its downward slide, however, as it fell by a margin of 15-5. With the exception of saves — sophomore goalie Samantha Giacolone tallied 10 saves on the day, while Virginia notched seven — the Cavaliers (4-4, 1-2 ACC) outdid the Irish in every category.

Halfpenny said the losing streak — coming after significant success early in the season — was a needed wake-up call and will force Notre Dame to go back to the basics.

“I think that we actually played three quality opponents on the road, coming off midterms, and I think that obviously we were on a nice little run of eight wins,” Halfpenny said. “But the reality is, sometimes wins can mask areas that still need improvement. Now obviously, hindsight is 20/20, and we look back and we’re realizing we stopped focusing on some of the details that were helping us win and that, you know, sometimes winning is a tough thing. And if you’re not careful, you can fall into some habits that need to be undone. I think we started picking up some bad habits.

“For example, our communication started to slide, and we recognized that starting in the Ohio State game, where our communication all over the field started to go. We stopped doing some of the little things, and then ultimately we paid the price for it when we went on the road and went up against three quality opponents.”

Halfpenny’s plan going forward revolves around looking back to that eight-game winning streak and examining what allowed that streak to occur. She also said the team is not in a particularly bad spot, despite the tough road trip, as it has the time and data to look into what went wrong.

“I wouldn’t say that we need to scratch things and start fresh,” Halfpenny said. “We need to go back to doing what we were doing at the beginning of the year, and we’re super excited about practice. In this run, we’re one of, I think, two teams in the country to play twelve games up to this point in the season, which is a lot. A lot of other teams are not on that many. So we’re excited because we have a ton of data now, a ton of experience that we can draw off of. What works, what doesn’t work, you know, what worked in the beginning when we did have a lot of practice time, when we were repping things out. Let’s get back to repping things out so that we can rely on those habits on game day. So we’ll be doing a lot of that coming up here this week.

“ … Our goal will be to get better each day and to be specific in the areas we want to get better at. Our number one focus will be communication: Specific communication in play, which should lead to us staying much more organized as a unit, but also individually staying organized, and then being able to add back some of those celebrations to celebrating the small details, the little things about our game that we take a lot of pride in, because we’ve definitely lost that along the way with this furious run of games.”

While the losing streak is certainly not ideal, Halfpenny said it came at a time that will allow the Irish to tackle its issues and hopefully come back ready to go.

“I think that we’d rather lose now than in May,” Halfpenny said. “I think that that is huge. I also think that now is a great opportunity to be together as a team, to learn. I think it would’ve been really difficult to go through this run while we’re back here in classes, to be honest. I think that’s something that we’re very well aware of.

“ … I think that the team-building we’re able to do, we’re really going through some growing pains right now, and recognizing what is and isn’t important was huge on the road. I think that was one of the most important things. If we were back here, being challenged academically, there’s no way we would be able to come together, get refocused on the team goals that they set for themselves and to start fresh and get after it. In some regard, maybe the timing is okay for this. We’ll see what works. We need to get process-focused again and allow the shortcomings over the past week to fuel and motivate us to get focused on us again and to really prepare as a team better. Bring our competition back to a high level, bring our excitement back to a high level and really embrace that process.”

The Irish will get back to business against No. 8 Syracuse in Syracuse, New York, on Sunday. First draw is scheduled for noon.