With its exceptional record of 12-5, the Cornell women’s lacrosse team is heading to its second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. The No.11/11 Red will take on No.15/13 Notre Dame (11-4, 4-3 ACC) in the first round of the tournament on Friday at 7 p.m. at Sherrerd Field in Princeton.
The match will mark the 12th meeting overall for the two teams and their second meeting in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Fighting Irish lead the overall series 7-4 and knocked the Red out of the tournament in 2006.
This season, however, both teams have impressive laundry lists of accomplishments. Both had eight game winning streaks at some point in the season, upset nationally ranked top five teams (Cornell over No.5 USC and Notre Dame over No.4 Syracuse), boast Tewaaraton Award nominees in senior captain defender Catie Smith (Cornell) and senior attacker Cortney Fortunato (Notre Dame) and bring multiple first-team all-conference athletes to the field.
Staying true to its motto to “get better everyday,” the Red has learned from its tough 12-9 loss to conference rival, Princeton, in the Ivy Tournament Championship on Sunday and will be focusing on being more adaptable and getting off to a stronger start against the Fighting Irish.
“We know we need to come out and play well and fast from the opening whistle,” said senior captain attacker Catherine Ellis. “It took us a whole half to get things going against Princeton, and we don’t want that to happen again.”
“We anticipate that the Fighting Irish are going to take the field with an up-tempo mindset, and it’s important that Cornell brings its strategy and team energy, which will allow us to set the tone that we want from the opening whistle,” added head coach Jenny Graap ’86.
Since it has not faced the Fighting Irish since 2012, Cornell made sure to watch lots of film this week to familiarize itself with the ACC powerhouse’s strategy. While specific preparations may be more difficult, that uncertainty is what makes it intriguing for Graap.
“Having not played Notre Dame this season makes the challenge that much more exciting,” she said. “Both teams are coming into this first round game with a clean slate — no history.”
In terms of x’s and o’s, Cornell knows it needs to retain the building blocks of what has gotten the team to this point already.
“We just have to be ready for [Notre Dame] to throw face guards or play man-to-man,” junior attacker Ida Farinholt said about Cornell’s offense. “Moving fast through plays, having a fluid motion, and just being on the same page is important.”
“Defensively, we are just going to try to protect our own house and not let the other teams get momentum going,” Ivy League Defender of the Year Smith added. “We do not want to dig ourselves into a hole that makes it difficult to get out of.”
An incredibly consistent and resilient team, Cornell understands what is at stake going into the tournament, but remains confident in its ability to overcome adversity.
“Obviously you don’t want to change too much because we’ve done a lot of the right things to get us in this position,” Ellis said. “At the same time, everyone steps their game up in this tournament so we need to be ready to do that as well.”
“Our Cornell players understand that postseason is an incredible opportunity to embrace the challenges, to harness the excitement, to overcome the nerves and to bring their best individually and collectively to the competition,” Graap said.
If the Red defeats Notre Dame in the first round, it would face the host Princeton on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the second round.
Though Cornell’s main focus right now is taking on the Fighting Irish, the team is eager for yet another chance to top the Tigers after two emotional losses this year.
“We would never have planned to possibly play Princeton three times in one season,” Smith said. “Each game against Princeton we have learned more about them and more about ourselves and are ready for anything. But we are definitely first focusing on beating Notre Dame.”
With a rare combination of talent, drive, work ethic and perseverance, the Red attributes its success to every player’s commitment to her teammates and to the sport.
“I think what has driven us this far is that everyone has such a love for each other,” Farinholt said. “Everyone from freshmen to seniors has awesome leadership and we’re just really relying on strategy and our passion now.”
Cornell’s matches in the NCAA tournament this weekend will be broadcast live on The Ivy League Digital Network.