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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

55, 20240218, Butler, Kelly Denes, Loftus Sports Center, Meghan Lange, Women's Lacrosse-4.jpg

Irish hit milestones, claim top ranking with defeat of Pitt

Notre Dame scores 14 consecutive goals in 26-5 triumph at home

Fresh off a 4-0 road trip that features three one-goal wins, Notre Dame women's lacrosse is back at home and flexing its muscles. The Irish, previously without a home victory since Feb. 18, annihilated Pitt by a count of 26-5 on Saturday, improving to 10-2 overall with a 4-2 mark in ACC play.

Not only did the beatdown signal a thunderous return to South Bend for the Irish, winners of five straight games. It captured attention from around the country -- so much that the women's lacrosse team earned its first No. 1 ranking of the season. USA Lacrosse Magazine moved Notre Dame up two spots to the summit of its Division I women's top 20, dethroning Maryland. As the calendar turns to April, the Irish now have both their lacrosse programs as standard-bearers in the USA Lacrosse rankings.

The Notre Dame women made it happen with a victory of historic proportions on Saturday, depositing 26 goals in an ACC game for the first time in program history. And generational offense, of course, starts with epic success in the draw circle. Senior midfielder and draw specialist Kelly Denes found no shortage of that success, claiming a career-high 16 draw controls, which is equal to Andie Aldave's program record for a single game.

As Denes helped Notre Dame to an overall advantage of 26-7 in the draw circle, the Irish kept a lead foot on the offensive gas pedal early. Notre Dame ripped 31 shots within the first half alone, ultimately scoring at least five goals in all four quarters. Seven players contributed multiple goals for Notre Dame, with four registering hat tricks. 

One of those four players began her final milestone push just two minutes and 19 seconds into the game. Graduate attacker Madison Ahern opened the scoring with her 30th goal of the season, bringing her ever close to career tally No. 200. Ahern would hit that mark in the third quarter as part of a four-goal game, her third consecutive contest with a hat trick.

Graduate attacker and draw specialist Arden Tierney, who posted a trio of goals herself, added a second Irish goal only 64 seconds later. But Pitt hung around in the opening minutes, tying the score at two on a free position shot shortly after. At the end of one quarter, Notre Dame led 7-4 after breaking the deadlock with a 4-0 scoring run.

Over the next 15 minutes, Notre Dame put together a dominant quarter of lacrosse. On their way to outscoring the Panthers 8-0 and going up by 11 before halftime, the Irish went 9-for-9 in the draw circle to set up a 16-3 shooting advantage. 

Notre Dame's ninth overall goal -- perhaps its best of the game -- came from its superior player of the game. Graduate attacker Jackie Wolak produced remarkable numbers against the Panthers, accumulating five goals and a career-high six assists on the day for a career-best 11 points. The leading Irish scorer found her hat trick mere minutes into the second quarter, turning defense to offense at a ridiculous pace. Wolak and a teammate forced a Pitt turnover at the Panther restraining line, putting the ball on the Arlotta Stadium turf. All in one motion, Wolak scooped it up and darted back toward the crease, cutting left and firing off a shot that picked out the net's top corner.

Clinical plays like Wolak's appeared frequently for the Irish, who extended their seemingly unbreakable momentum from the second quarter into the third. Graduate midfielder Kasey Choma, another three-goal scorer for Notre Dame, needed only 45 seconds to move her team ahead 16-4 after the halftime break. Six more unanswered Irish goals would follow, carrying the home side to a 21-4 lead by way of a 14-0 scoring run.

As the march neared its end, sophomore midfielder Franny O'Brien found the back of the net for the first time this season, benefiting from Wolak's sixth assist of the game. Sydney Naylor and the Panthers finally dusted off its goal counter with a strike inside the third quarter's final five seconds, snapping a scoring drought of 30 minutes and 54 seconds.

That Pitt goal proved nothing more than an outlier as the contest's final quarter played out. Notre Dame again held the Panthers scoreless while posting five more tallies to close out a 26-5 win. Junior goalie Isabel Pithie even saw about seven minutes down the stretch after senior starter Lilly Callahan departed with five saves and her 10th win of the year.

Looking ahead, Notre Dame will seek a repeat performance during its final home game this Saturday against Duke. The same publication that bestowed a No. 1 ranking on the Irish just handed the Blue Devils a spot in its top 20 -- and for good reason. After a 3-4 start, Duke has taken six of its last seven games, including a top-10 takedown of Virginia to end March.

Notre Dame's Senior Day matchup with Duke is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Arlotta Stadium.