Though it did not come easy at first, Cornell women’s lacrosse defeated Notre Dame 12-7 Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament, proving itself as a force to be reckoned with on the national stage. The win grants Cornell a date with the host Tigers in the second round Sunday.
The Red (13-5) and Fighting Irish (11-8) appeared evenly matched in the first half, both battling for the lead and trading possessions back and forth. Though the Red never gained the lead in the first half, it was able to contain Notre Dame and managed to enter halftime tied at five.
However, throughout all of its 18 regular season and postseason matches, Cornell has never lost when it held the lead at the half, and has only lost once when the match was tied at midpoint to No. 6 Syracuse. More impressively, the Red has only been outscored in the second half twice regardless of the final outcome — by No. 7 USC and No. 6 Syracuse.
Given these statistics, it was no surprise that the Red came out swinging in the second half and quickly built a four-goal lead that proved to be too much for the Fighting Irish to overcome. Cornell staved off scoring efforts from Notre Dame’s Tewaaraton award nominee Cortney Fortunato and first team All-ACC attacker Casey Pearsall. The team from Ithaca went on to outscore Notre Dame 7-2 in the second half, leading to a decisive five-goal victory.
Head coach Jenny Graap ’86 credits the shift in momentum to senior captain defender Catie Smith’s winning draw control in the second half, which resulted in a two-on-one breakaway that resulted in junior attacker Ida Farinholt feeding the ball to senior attacker Catherine Ellis, who buried a shot deep to give the Red a two-goal lead.
“It was a really nice fast break right off the draw,” Graap said. “And those are real momentum-shifting goals in tight games because it’s just a powerful display and good execution.”
Graap also attributes the strong second half to reassessing strategy at halftime.
“Early in the game we were a bit rattled by [Notre Dame’s transition defense],” she said. “I think we were able to talk it through at halftime and just understand what options we had to combat that strategy.”
A highly physical team, Notre Dame did not shy away from contact and received three yellow cards over the course of the game, giving the Red three man-up opportunities.
Graap also stated that she was pleased that Cornell “stayed disciplined despite the physicality of the game” to prevent giving Notre Dame opportunities of its own.
Highlights from yesterday’s match include hat tricks from Ellis and junior midfielder Taylor Reed; two goals each from Farinholt and senior attacker Amie Dickson; and one goal each from senior captain midfielder Kristy Gilbert and sophomore attacker Sarah Phillips.
Cornell was also able to dominate the draw controls 14-7, with Ivy League Defender of the Year and Tewaaraton award nominee Smith leading the way with four draw controls.
Senior goalie Renee Poullot also came up big for the Red with 10 saves en route to earning her record-breaking 41st career victory.
Cornell’s dismantling of the ACC powerhouse has earned it another opportunity to take on Ancient Eight rival and host team No. 5 Princeton (14-5) in the second round of the tournament.
“We know [the Tigers] well and they know us well,” Graap said. “I think it’s just going to be a battle.”
Cornell has faced the Tigers twice this season already and both matches resulted in close, heart-wrenching losses for the Red. Graap thinks this time could be different, however, because of Cornell’s willingness to lay everything on the line and be flexible with its game plan.
“I’m pleased that the Cornell team is able to adjust and change strategies really quickly,” she said. “I think that’s the sign of a really talented team that they can embrace new strategies with limited practice and limited experience.”
Cornell will face Princeton Sunday at 1 p.m. at Sherrerd Field for a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals. The match will also be broadcast live on the Ivy League Digital Network.