Virginia looks to sustain momentum against Notre Dame
Cavaliers, Irish meet as conference rivals for first time
Two weeks ago, the Cavaliers found themselves in a bind. Sitting at two games below .500, Virginia was essentially in do-or-die mode. A pair of wins against Old Dominion and American were vital to the Cavaliers’ chances in making their 19th consecutive NCAA tournament berth under coach Julie Myers.
So far, the Cavaliers have pulled through.
Following Tuesday night’s win against American, Virginia (6-6, 0-3 ACC) has won two straight games — its first multi-game winning streak of the season.
Now, with four conference games remaining to close out the regular season, the team is looking to claim a much-needed third consecutive victory Saturday when it travels to South Bend to face ACC newcomer No. 6 Notre Dame (8-4, 2-2 ACC).
“We need a win,” Myers said. “Right now we’re just looking at what we need — a minimum of nine wins to get to the postseason. So we need three more here at the end of April.”
Virginia is hoping to prolong its recent momentum. After dominating Old Dominion at Klöckner Stadium last Wednesday, the Cavaliers dismantled their next opponent — American — Tuesday night to the tune of 18-4.
In the win, Virginia gained four points each from junior attacker Casey Bocklet and sophomore midfielder Mary Alati, while junior attacker Courtney Swan tallied her eighth hat-trick of the season. However, Myers said it was the diversity of scoring — 11 different Cavaliers netted goals — that was so encouraging.
“It’s been a huge week for us,” she said. “We have played well and handled our opponents pretty nicely with everyone being able to contribute.”
Notre Dame boasts an impressive eight wins coming into the contest, defeating ranked opponents such as No. 5 Boston College and No. 7 Northwestern. The Fighting Irish went on a four-game tear in early March, and have also gone on two-game winning streaks twice, though they lost their last game against Stanford Saturday.
The Irish have four players with at least 19 goals to lead an offense which averages approximately 13 goals per game, but they are clearly lead by freshman attacker Cortney Fortunato — the No. 1 class of 2013 recruit, according to Inside Lacrosse. Fortunato leads Notre Dame with 42 points — 12 more the next highest scoring teammate — on 31 goals and 11 assists.
“We’ll probably move a key defender on her to try to limit some of her touches — sometimes deny her the ball and other times just play her straight up,” Myers said. “The more quiet we keep Cortney and the more pressure we put on their other attackers to score the goals, the better we’re going to do.”
The Cavalier defense only surrendered four goals — its lowest total of the season — against American. Virginia will need to bring a similar defensive intensity Saturday to have a chance at containing Fortunato and the Irish.
“We need to keep them under 10 goals,” Myers said. “I think we’ll be able to score our fair share. Keeping them under 10 gives us a chance to win the game.”
As Myers noted, the Cavaliers will have opportunities on the offensive end. Virginia averages more than 14 goals per game and has two dynamic scorers in Swan and senior attacker Liza Blue, who are first and second on the team in points, respectively.
Contributions from upperclassmen Bocklet and junior midfielder Morgan Stephens, who are second and third on the team in assists, respectively, will also be critical for Virginia to leave South Bend with a victory.
The Cavaliers’ dominance on draw controls has been a key to their past two victories. Swan has won 63 on the season, including four against American and seven against Old Dominion.
Virginia averages 15 draw controls per game, while Notre Dame averages just 12, due in large part to the absence of All-American Notre Dame junior defender Barbara Sullivan — the team’s best draw taker — who is out for the season.
“She was their primary draw taker,” Swan said. “Now they rotate a few girls in. We just have to win those draws against those girls.”
A Virginia win would be just the second road win of the season — the team’s only other came against William & Mary — but there is even more on the line. A victory against Notre Dame would put Virginia one step closer to reaching the necessary nine wins to make postseason play.
The Cavaliers, though, have tried to prevent the pressure of making the postseason from becoming a distraction. This weekend will mark the first-ever meeting between the two schools, which has the Virginia players excited at the chance to give the Irish a rude welcome to the conference.
“It’s fun to play someone you haven’t played before and to scout new people and new players rather than the typical UNC and Duke,” Swan said. “[We’ll] just kind of give them a nice little showing of some ACC lacrosse.”
The opening draw is scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m. in South Bend, Ind.