No. 10 Northwestern women’s lacrosse (11-10) matched up with No. 6 Notre Dame (14-6) in the NCAA Tournament second round Sunday afternoon in South Bend, and on a day where many members of the Irish roster graduated from college, the Wildcats were thoroughly schooled. After rolling over Louisville by ten goals in the first round Friday, Northwestern experienced the other side of that situation Sunday, falling to the Irish by a final score of 15-3.
In the last meeting between these two teams on April 10, which NU won 17-12, Notre Dame scored two quick goals before NU responded. The theme in that game was Northwestern’s resilience: Northwestern scored the goal immediately following eight of Notre Dame’s goals, not allowing the Irish to sustain offensive momentum for most of the game. That didn’t happen Sunday; when Notre Dame scored, as they often do (they are top 10 nationally with 13.80 goals per game), Northwestern was unable to respond.
The Irish got things started quickly when Grace Muller scored 1:11 into the contest, the first of four Notre Dame goals in the game’s opening 10:03. It looked like Northwestern would be able to mount some sort of comeback midway through the frame, as goals from Christina Esposito and Kaleigh Craig cut the lead to 4-2 with 18 minutes left in the half, but the Irish retaliated, scoring the next two. Selena Lasota pulled one back for the ‘Cats with 5:42 to go in the frame, but Notre Dame answered with two minutes left, and the teams headed into halftime with the Irish leading 7-3.
You know when people in sports say “it was all one team” for a period of play? They usually mean that one team outperformed the other during that time. But in this case, it was quite literally all Notre Dame in the second half Sunday. The Irish scored 1:48 into the frame and would tack on seven more before the day was done. In the span, Northwestern scored zero times. But it wasn’t due to lack of trying; instead, it was due to the play of freshman goaltender Samantha Giacolone, who stopped all seven second half Wildcat shots she faced. In the regular season matchup, the Wildcats put 17 shots in, and the freshman made just four saves. But on Sunday, she made eight total and allowed just three goals.
As if that weren’t enough, Northwestern failed to score on backup goaltender Nicole Fantozzi, as well; the senior played the final three minutes of the game, just her fifth appearance of the season, and held the Wildcats off the board, even making a save, her only one so far this season.
The Irish didn’t even need their lucky charms Sunday. Their defense was menacing all game, holding Northwestern to 16 shots and three goals, both season-lows. They were dominant pretty much across the board: Notre Dame caused six more turnovers, committed five fewer, picked up two more ground balls, won two more draws, committed 13 fewer fouls and, oh yeah, scored 12 more goals. The Irish were led, as normal, by four goals from Cortney Fortunato, the first of which was a sweet no-look shot that eventually stood up as the game-winner. Grace Muller also scored four times, while Casey Pearsall added a pair of goals and a trio of assists. Tewaaraton Award finalist Barb Sullivan led the defense, recording three ground balls, three caused turnovers, and five draw controls.
Only four Wildcats recorded points, and only six recorded shots, led by Craig’s seven. Craig closes her senior campaign with a team-high 52 goals, and tied with Lasota for the team lead with 66 points. Shelby Fredericks rebounded from a tough matchup with Louisville’s Kaylin Morissette with six draw control wins, but it wouldn’t be enough. Freshman goaltender Mallory Weisse continued her recent run of stellar play with ten saves, but when 25 shots come on your cage, some of them are bound to go in.
There’s no question that this is a bitter loss for Northwestern. This was a game that they could have won, but, ultimately, one in which they were thoroughly beaten by a superior opponent. But, if there’s a silver lining, it’s this: on April 3, after Northwestern’s 14-13 overtime loss to Penn, many people speculated if this year’s team would even make it to the NCAA Tournament. And, against significant odds, they did. And they won a game handily, dominating Louisville 15-5. There will be some roster turnover next year as Craig and multiple defenders move on, but there should be reason for optimism in Evanston.