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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

7, 20240218, Butler, Loftus Sports Center, Mary Kelly Doherty, Meghan Lange, Women's Lacrosse.jpg

Fifth-ranked Irish finish road trip at Clemson and Mercer

Notre Dame women's lacrosse looks to extend momentum from close, top-25 wins

After a second consecutive home loss to Virginia on March 9, Notre Dame women’s lacrosse departed for a four-game road swing needing results. At that point, the Irish had lost two of three and had slid down to the No. 8 ranking in the country.

With no shortage of drama, the first half of the East Coast trip went exactly as planned. Notre Dame pulled out an air-tight, 16-15 win at No. 23 Brown, holding on despite surrendering a 14-11 lead. The Irish then went to Boston College, a place where they hadn’t won in 21 years, and emerged victorious in crunch time. The 15-14 win in Chestnut Hill marked Notre Dame’s second over a team ranked in the nation’s top two this season.

Following six days off, the Irish (7-2, 2-2 ACC) now stare down the second half of their lengthy expedition. Notre Dame will visit Clemson, a second-year ACC opponent, on Saturday before playing at neighboring Mercer in a non-conference tilt Sunday. Both Irish opponents enter the weekend without a ranking.

No denying Doherty

Notre Dame’s hero in the Brown and Boston College games hauled in plenty of hardware this week. Senior midfielder Mary Kelly Doherty scored seven combined goals between the previous two road games, including game-winning tallies inside the final 40 seconds of both contests.

In response, USA Lacrosse named Doherty its Division I Player of the Week. The Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association then tabbed her as its Offensive Player of the Week. Finally, Doherty received recognition as the ACC Offensive Player of the Week for her efforts during Spring Break.

Not only did Doherty contribute a hat trick against Brown and a career-high four goals at Boston College, but she also factored in away from the cage. Doherty controlled 14 total draws, including one that iced the Boston College game in the final 15 seconds. She notched two ground balls as well, helping Notre Dame earn extra possessions in a pair of tight contests.

On the season, Doherty now ranks fourth on the Irish roster with 18 goals. Only the team’s graduate big three — attacker Jackie Wolak, attacker Madison Ahern and midfielder Kasey Choma — rank ahead of her in that category. Doherty also positions in a tie for third in points, as her 28 match Ahern’s season total. In the draw control department, she ranks second among the Irish with 37 wins on the year.

Clemson shooting for highest-ranked win in program history

Clemson hasn’t been around for long as a women’s lacrosse program, opening play in 2023. However, the Tigers have wasted little time learning how to win under Allison Kwolek. They went 12-6 a season ago, playing within a 12-9 score of Notre Dame in South Bend. 

This year, Clemson holds an overall record of 6-3 with a 1-3 mark in ACC play. Like Notre Dame, the Tigers sped out to a 4-0 start, winning its ACC opener by a 20-11 score at Duke on Feb. 24. As a result, they ranked 18th in the nation by the end of the lacrosse season’s first month.

But the remainder of conference action has not been kind to the Tigers, handing them three losses in the last five games overall. Clemson entered March with top-15 losses to Virginia and North Carolina at home, most recently falling by a goal at Louisville last Saturday.

Given their transition abilities, the Tigers will demand offensive efficiency from the Irish. Clemson ranks third in the nation for clearing percentage and successfully cleared all 12 of its attempts last week in Louisville. Also leading the ACC in ground balls per game, Clemson won’t be afraid to play a scrappy brand of lacrosse against Notre Dame. Offensively, the Tigers also own top-10 national rankings in shots on goal per game and free position percentage.

Kwolek’s strong initial recruiting, culminating in a fourth-ranked freshman class this season, has quickly translated to on-field success. First-year Regan Byrne has 17 goals on the year, leading all ACC freshmen in goals per game. Natalie Shurtleff, the second-ranked freshman in the 2024 class, has filled up the stat sheet from every angle. Along with her 11 assists — which rank fourth nationally among first-year players — Shurtleff owns 11 goals, 11 ground balls, 20 draw controls and six caused turnovers. Finally, Kayla Macleod leads the conference in free position percentage and freshman goals (18).

On the other end of the spectrum, UMBC graduate transfer Claire Bockstie leads the Tigers with 28 goals and 40 points. She enters the weekend needing just nine goals to reach 200 for her impressive career.

ACC-seasoned Mercer presents NCAA Tournament rematch

Despite having membership in the Big South Confernece, Mercer (3-4) has already seen its share of the ACC. The Bears opened their year with a 21-8 loss to Virginia Tech, winning two games thereafter before falling 22-10 to Clemson on March 5. 

Last week, Mercer dipped into the American Athletic Conference for its third and fourth losses of the season. A 13-9 loss at Vanderbilt preceded a 20-7 defeat at No. 13 Florida, pitting the Bears below .500 for the first time in over three weeks.

But before any of that happened, Mercer met Notre Dame for the first time in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. The Irish rolled at the Gainesville neutral site, winning 21-6 behind a 10-point showing from Choma.

The top draw-controlling team in the ACC, Notre Dame will look to exploit a potential Mercer weakness that emerged last Saturday at Florida. The Bears earned only 10 controls to Florida’s 20, bringing their season draw control percentage to 44.6. That figure compares unfavorably to the 60.7 mark of Notre Dame, who will target extra possessions early in the game. However, if Mercer’s Kayla Soltys plays to her Big South-best 5.86 draw controls per game, that task won’t be as easy.

Though Mercer didn’t see the ball much in Gainesville, it still found lanes to the cage at a high rate. With 19 of their 22 shots going on goal, the Bears posted a season-high 86.4 shot percentage.

Overall, Mercer’s offense stands as the most prolific in the Big South. Led by Gabby DiVirgilio and her 30 points, the Bears pace the conference in scoring and shooting, averaging 14.3 goals and 29.3 shots per game.

Notre Dame will face Clemson at 7 p.m. on Saturday before moving on to Mercer for a noon start on Sunday.