A week’s rest between games was the elixir the Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team needed to get back to their winning ways.
The No. 15 Irish (9-4, 3-1 ACC) showcased fresh legs - and a laser focus from sophomore goaltender Samantha Giacolone - to hand the No. 4 Syracuse Orange its first conference loss, 16-7.
Three New York natives on the Irish team made the most of their homecoming and were the difference in today’s win.
Giacolone, from Manorville (Suffolk County), had struggled to keep the ball out of the net during the Irish’s last four games. Today, she walled off the Orange attack and stopped 13 of 20 shots on goal (.650 save percentage).
Cortney Fortunato, of Northport (Suffolk County), had seemingly boundless energy. The senior midfielder chasing down defenders, causing a turnover and scoring three goals and assisting on another. Fortunato entered the game 31st among Division I players in averaging three goals per game and feasted on a porous Orange defense. The Irish improved to 31-7 all-time when Fortunato scores three or more goals.
Fortunato scored the goal with 11:48 remaining in the first half that eliminated the Orange’s last lead. Two minutes later, sophomore attacker Nikki Ortega — of Centereach (Suffolk County) — converted a free position attempt for her first of three goals.
The Irish had unanswered runs of four goals in the first half and six goals in the second half to leave little doubt among the sixth-largest crowd in Syracuse history (1,522) which team would prevail.
“We dug a big hole and never really got that run we've had in the past where we get a spark and we make a run,” Syracuse coach Gary Gait told Cuse.com. “And then you play a very good team like Notre Dame, who is fighting for their lives after coming off three losses in row. They came in here with tons of energy and fired up, kind of with their backs against the wall, and they got the best of us today. It gives us more to work on and an idea of what we need to do to be successful."
The Orange and Irish both ripped off 30 shots, with Notre Dame putting 25 on goal.
Besides Fortunato and Ortega, the Irish got two goals each from seniors Heidi Annaheim (in her first season start), Alex Dalton and Casey Pearsall as well as freshman Jessi Masinko. Senior Grace Muller and freshman Savannah Buchanan added one goal each.
The Irish are first in the ACC in ground balls per game (20.83); they had 20 to Syracuse’s 15 today. They also top the conference with 11 1⁄2 caused turnovers per game, but managed just six today. Total turnovers and draw controls were almost even.
Notre Dame entered the game an unimpressive 41-for-111 in free position attempts, which are open shots at the goal from 8 or 12 meters after a defensive foul. They converted 4-of-6 today.
Syracuse entered the game 48th in Division I in free position attempts (40-of-93), but Giacolone and the defense limited them to just three goals on 10 attempts today.
“I’ve been working a lot on free position shots,” Giacolone told UND.com. “I know this week I’ve been thrown in a lot for free position shots because it’s not my strongest suit. Being proactive and not reactive and being able to move my hands faster and have my body follow -- it’s all up to me and me focusing on the ball.
The sophomore concluded: “It goes both ways, and today it went my way. I got lucky.”
With the loss, the Orange fell to 8-3 on the season and 2-1 in the ACC. Notre Dame improved to 7-17 against Syracuse all-time, and notched just their second win in 10 tries in Syracuse.
The Irish will next play at noon April 2 against No. 2 North Carolina at Arlotta Stadium.
Final stats here.