Fall Ball Focus: Notre Dame Women Have Good Problems to Sort Through

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES

Jackie Wolak had 40 goals and 31 assists for Notre Dame last spring.


Notre Dame’s blue-chip roster is unselfish — sometimes to a fault. The Irish look to pass, but Christine Halfpenny is looking to her experienced offensive players to be ego-centric when the situation calls for it. She began to see Jackie Wolak rise to the occasion late last spring and believes the experience Kasey Choma and Madison Ahern got playing for Team USA in Sixes at The World Games will help.

“Both of them had to recognize when they had to step up for the U.S. … that selflessness combined with recognizing when it’s you — you’re the one, and you’ve got to go — will pay dividends this season,” Halfpenny said.

The trio were the Irish’s top scorers last season. Choma led with 59 goals, Ahern had 57 goals and Wolak had 40 goals and 31 assists.

“Last year, [offense] is where we were the oldest and most experienced,” Halfpenny said. “This year, that’s where we’ll be the oldest and most experienced again. We want to continue to build on their decision-making.”

Though the offense is working on dotting I’s and crossing t’s, other questions remain.

LAST SEASON

Choma and Ahern entered South Bend as two of the top recruits in the nation in the fall of 2019. And yet, because of COVID-19, 2022 — their true junior season — was their first “normal” year.

At times, the inexperience showed for the Irish, who started the year 1-4 with a pair of one-goal home losses to Syracuse and Northwestern.

“That’s not normal for us,” Halfpenny said. “We had new players in impactful positions in our first full year … it’s not an excuse. It’s just what it was for our team.”

The Irish dug deep and dug out, getting to .500 with a comeback win over Louisville on the final day of the regular season and upending Duke in the ACC tournament to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament. They finished 9-10 after losing to Michigan in the first round.







BIGGEST FALL QUESTION: WHO’S THE GOALIE?

Bridget Deehan saw the bulk of the action for the Irish in her graduate year, producing an 11.73 goals-against average and .431 save percentage, despite battling a hamstring injury she sustained February 23.

This means the two other active goalies on the roster, Lilly Callahan and Isabel Pithie, had to be ready. This year, the duo is part of a four-player race. Callahan appears to be the leading contender. She saw action in nine games and posted a 9.29 GAA and .630 save percentage.

“If you asked her if she’s ready, she’d probably laugh and say, ‘I’ve been ready,’” Halfpenny said.

Pithie played in two games, while Mallie Follet, an athletic, competitive netminder, returns after redshirting. The Irish also added Avery Gawronski, a freshman who starred at Clearview Regional (N.J.).

Halfpenny says having four options is a good problem.

“It’s like the quarterback position,” Halfpenny said. “Let’s see what happens in the fall when they have an opportunity to lead the defense.”

MARQUEE ADDITION: EMMA MURPHY

The Irish don’t use a class system — just ask Choma and Ahern, who stepped right in during their COVID-shortened freshmen year. This season, freshman Emma Murphy is a contender to contribute immediately.

“She’s an absolute superstar,” said Halfpenny of the Under-Armour All-American from Dow High School (Mich.). “Her speed is incredible, and she has an knack for being able to see the gaps and take advantage of them with and without the ball.”

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: MIDFIELDERS

Don’t sleep on the midfield, which will be tasked with helping to fill gaps left by Maddie Howe (38 G, 19 A) and Diana Kelly (29 GB, 61 DC, 22 CT), who turned their tassels in May.

Junior Kristen Shanahan, who struggled with lower body injuries her first two seasons, is 100 percent for the first time in her career. Classmate Keelin Schlageter, who played in 12 games and has battled injuries, is also healthy.

Juniors Kelly Denes (100 DC) and Mary Kelly Doherty (45 DC) return with more experience after stepping into the circle in place of Andie Aldave, the Irish’s previous draw leader. Hannah Dorney (9 G, 3 A, 36 GB, 28 CT) provides versatility and leadership as the Irish’s only graduate student.

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