Notre Dame women’s lacrosse will begin it’s 2024 season on Friday night with a “now-or-never” vibe around the program.
This is potentially the most talented roster the Irish have assembled over the last two-and-a-half decades of team history. Coming off its second NCAA Tournament quarterfinals appearance in the last three years — the first time the Irish have enjoyed such a stretch of tournament success — this year feels like the best chance head coach Christine Halfpenny will get to have a breakthrough campaign.
Leading the way on an experienced roster is a plethora of returning attack options. Notre Dame’s top six leaders in points from 2023 are all back for another year. All six will return as either seniors or graduate students.
The biggest names in that bevy of talent though is the graduate student trio of Jackie Wolak, Kasey Choma and Madison Ahern. Those three combined to score 189 of Notre Dame’s 324 total goals last spring. Each have seen their yearly point output uptick on a yearly basis, particularly over the last three years. It’s hard to top 277 combined points, but do any of Wolak, Choma and Ahern have one last production leap in them? Regardless, expect that trio to be at the center of what should be a strong Irish offense.
Among other notable returnees are Mary Kelly Doherty and Kelly Denes, both of whom will add even more experience to Notre Dame’s midfield. Both served as draw specialists in 2023, with over 100 draw controls apiece last spring, but their impact in a larger role come 2024 shouldn’t be underestimated. Doherty can impact the game on both the offensive and defensive end, and Denes was tabbed by USA Lacrosse for a honorable mention in their preseason all-American list.
The storyline for the Irish isn’t all returning talent, though. Notre Dame looked to the portal to bolster their hopes this spring, adding two impact transfers in Olivia Dooley and Arden Tierney. Both are graduate students hailing from Long Island, and each enter with considerable acclaim. Dooley, a former Pac-12 Defender of the Year winner, should provide an already stout Irish defense with an immediate boost. Tierney totaled 94 points with Richmond last spring and figures to factor in draw situations from the get-go, with more than 400 career controls to her name.
In net, the nod will go to yet another senior in Lilly Callahan. 2023 was Callahan’s first year as a game-in, game-out starter and she put forth an impressive campaign. She posted a .450 save percentage, serving as the backstop for an Irish defense that finished fourth in the ACC in goals against average. Callahan allowed more than 15 goals in a game just three times all season, and allowed fewer than 10 goals in six of Notre Dame’s final nine games.
The Irish have talent, experience and depth. But the true X-factor of a potential May run will be the team’s mentality. Seventeen of the 40 players on the 2024 roster are either seniors or graduate students. There’s a real chance the Irish’s opening lineup against Detroit Mercy consists entirely of such players. There’s little doubt Halfpenny’s squad is aware that this is a chips-in year for a team that’s knocked on the door of the NCAA semifinals multiple times in her tenure. If Notre Dame can mix that sense of urgency with an abundance of returning production, the Irish could be in line to make some serious noise in the ACC.