New Faces Suggest Changing of the Guard in South Bend


Former U.S. U19 teammates Nikki Ortega (left) and Samantha Giacolone lead an experienced junior class for Notre Dame.

US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Women’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 8. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on throughout January and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition that mails to US Lacrosse members Feb. 1 — opening day of the 2018 college lacrosse season.

No. 14 Notre Dame

2017 Record: 11-8 (4-3 ACC)
Coach: Christine Halfpenny (7th year)
All-Time Record: 218-141
NCAA Appearances: 12
Final Fours: 1
Championships: 0

Notre Dame coach Christine Halfpenny views the 2017-2018 season as a changing of the guard for her team. And no wonder: For the first time in 14 years, nearly twice as long as Halfpenny’s tenure, the Irish will open a season without a single player who has previously been named an All-American.

By comparison, Notre Dame had three returning All-Americans last year and four the year before, all of whom are now gone.

“Our classes of ‘16 and ‘17 were really the nuts and bolts of what we’ve been playing for so long,” Halfpenny said. “This team has lots of new faces.”

The last two Irish classes included All-Americans Cortney Fortunato, the Notre Dame’s No. 2 all-time scorer, and Casey Pearsall, the school’s No. 2 career draw controller and No. 5 on the assist list. Defender Alex Dalton also earned All-American honors in 2015. Those three departed after last season, a year after Barbara Sullivan, a two-time Tewaaraton finalist and three-time first-team All-American defender.

To put the Irish’s youth movement this season in full perspective, the team has a total of just four seniors, only two of whom — captains Molly Cobb and Sydney Cardozo — were full-time contributors in 2017.

But if the Irish lack experience, they are not short of talent. All four classes currently on the roster arrived in South Bend as top-five recruiting classes, according to Inside Lacrosse, including the incoming one. The 2015 class, juniors this season, were ranked No. 3, higher even than the now-departed group with Fortunato and Pearsall.

“We lost a lot of playmakers,” Halfpenny said. “But we have some kids who have been waiting for it to be their time.”

As an example, Halfpenny points to junior like Jessie Masinko as a player with talent who has waited her turn.

“She’s a pure goal scorer around the crease,” Halfpenny said. “She had a huge fall for us.”

Four other juniors will give the Irish some stability: Samantha Lynch (37 goals) and Nikki Ortega (18 goals and 18 assists) are the team’s top returning scorers, and goalie Samantha Giacolone and defender Hannah Proctor will anchor the defense.

“We’ve got a lot of reliability back there between the pipes and on our defense,” Halfpenny said.

The Irish also will dip into their incoming freshman class, including Andie Aldave, who, like Fortunato in 2013, is the nation’s No. 1 incoming freshman. Two of her fellow newcomers, Kaci Messier and Bridget Deehan, also were highly touted recruits.

Three Irish midfielders — Makenna Pearsall, Jenn Casadonte and CeCe Biagini — return from ACL injuries that cut short their 2017 season. In all, Notre Dame lost four players to knee injuries last year, the most Halfpenny had seen on a team since her time at William and Mary.

“I guess it’s every sixth or seventh year,” she said. “We’ll have to watch ourselves in 2023 or something.”

The Case For Notre Dame

For the first time in at least four years, Notre Dame’s top returning unit will be its defense. The Irish defense allowed just 10.58 goals per game in 2017 and returns most of their key players. Junior goalie Samantha Giacolone stopped 180 shots in 2017 to post a 47.5 save percentage, earning two ACC Defensive Player of the Week awards. Most notable was a 13-save performance against Syracuse in late March. Top defender Hannah Proctor, also a junior, returns after collecting 27 ground balls in 2017, tops among returners. “Hannah and Sam are going to do so much for us,” Halfpenny said.

The Case Against Notre Dame

Gone are All-Americans Cortney Fortunato and Casey Pearsall, who together accounted for 87 goals in 2017. In fact, of the 258 points Notre Dame scored in 2017, the players accounting for 136 of them are gone. Stepping in for them will be one of the youngest offenses in the nation. They should have enough talent to compete in the ACC, but they’ll lack what all young teams need: time to jell. The first time the Irish step on the field will be for a key matchup against veteran-heavy Boston College, an NCAA finalist in 2017.

Path to the Playoffs

Ten of Notre Dame’s 16 opponents made the NCAA tournament in 2017. Seven of them advanced at least to the second round. After a dangerous season opener with Boston College on Feb 12, the Irish play USC early, then finish the year against Northwestern and Duke. Wins over BC in the opener or Duke in the finale may be key for postseason positioning in the loaded ACC.

Players To Watch

Hannah Proctor, D, Jr.

27 GB, 14 CT

Proctor will anchor Notre Dame’s defense and likely will draw the toughest assignments. Halfpenny said Proctor is “adding more communication to her play and beginning to understand how important that leadership role is for us. She brings so much experience.”

Sam Lynch, A, Jr.

37 G, 15 DC

The Irish’s top returning scorer will be asked to carry much more of the offense this season. “She’s 5-foot-10 and give us a high basketball IQ,” Halfpenny said. “She understands picks and screens and off-ball movement so well. She’s a tireless worker, which is why I say she’s second to none in skill.”

Andie Aldave, M, Fr.

31 G, 27 A (HS)

The youngest member of the 2015 U.S. U19 women’s team led McDonogh (Md.) to its 177th consecutive win to end her senior year. So far, Halfpenny said, the biggest surprise she’s had from her top incoming freshman has been her immediate effect on the rest of the team. “She’s probably the most selfless, enthusiastic player we’ve brought in,” Halfpenny said. “Watching the joy in her face as she celebrates her team’s success, you can’t coach that. That’s not a normal outward intangible trait, and you can’t coach that. She’s going to do a little of everything for us. She’s working really hard on her dodging game. She sees openings, but has the discipline to hang onto the ball when it’s not there, and she is strong in the draw circle.”

National Rankings




Offense 23rd 13.58 GPG
Defense 31st 10.58 GAA
Draws 60th 12.53/game
Ground Balls 18th 27.90/game
Caused TO 20th 10.68/game
Shooting 66th 41.1%
FP Shooting 92nd 36.0%
Yellow Cards 55th 29
Assists 33rd 5.89/game
Turnovers 24th 15.53/game
Shots 15th 33.05/game

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)






Years since Notre Dame has fielded a roster that, like this year’s, did not include a returning All-American.

5-Year Trend
Scoring Offense



Per Game

2013 26th 12.18
2014 27th 12.05
2015 46th 11.25
2016 7th 13.43
2017 23rd 13.58

Coach Confidential
Christine Halfpenny

“Consistency in the draw circle gaining possession. If we can figure it out, I think that’s gonna be a game changer in one- and two-goal games.”

Enemy Lines
Rival Coaches

“Many expected this team with its talented players of Cortney Fortunato and Casey Pearsall to go far, and they did not. Who is Notre Dame? Life after Fortunato begins. Reload with talent on both ends. Every year is supposed to be ‘the year’ for the Irish. … Assuming they can stay healthy, they’ve got plenty of talent. ... Always a hard-fighting team. The defense and goalkeeping always keep them in games.”

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