The No. 4 Notre Dame women’s lacrosse regular season finished with an unceremonious thud Saturday, as the Irish dropped their first home game of the year to the No. 6 Northwestern Wildcats, 15-11.
It was just the third loss in 16 games for the Irish, matching the best regular season in program history. The 2006 squad made it to the Final Four before falling to Dartmouth in the semis, while the 2012 team lost both its first round Big East game and its NCAA opening round game to finish at 13-5.
So is this year’s team poised for a run similar to 2006 or 2012? We’ll be able to make and educated guess after Friday’s games.
FIRST TEST: DUKE
The Irish will play the Duke Blue Devils at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the first round of the ACC Tournament in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Frankly, the Blue Devils (9-7, 2-5) appear to be in a tailspin. They’ve beaten just one ranked team out of the seven they’ve played and their season ended with lopsided losses to Boston College, Notre Dame and North Carolina.
The Irish beat Duke, 15-7, in Durham last Sunday and Notre Dame’s loss to a talented Northwestern team doesn’t suggest that Wednesday’s outcome against Duke will be much different than it was the first time.
Duke’s strength — its proficiency in the draw control circle — was bested by Notre Dame’s Andie Aldave. The sophomore midfielder helped the Irish win 16 of 23 draw controls during their game against the Blue Devils.
Duke ranks among the worst nationwide in clearing the ball, saving shots on goal and picking up ground balls. Sophomore attack Charlotte North remains Duke’s most formidable player, with 68 goals this year — including three against the Irish.
STEP TWO: CAROLINA REMATCH?
If the Irish prevail over Duke, they’ll play the winner of the game against the second-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels (12-3, 5-2 ACC) and the seventh-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies (8-9, 1-6 ACC) at 8 p.m. Friday.
Tech has had an “almost, but not quite” year, losing to Duke, USC, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Boston College and Virginia — all teams ranked 18th or higher — by three goals or less. They beat then-No. 13 Denver by a single goal in overtime March 17.
The Tar Heels thumped the Hokies, 19-5, in Blacksburg on March 27, and the Hokies rank in the Top 25 nationwide in just one of 18 statistical categories: clearing percentage.
Notre Dame’s Samantha Giacolone earned ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors following the Irish’s 9-7 win over North Carolina on March 31, but the senior goaltender and her supporting defensive cast struggled early against both Boston College and Northwestern to create insurmountable deficits.
If Notre Dame is to beat Duke and North Carolina, they’ll need Giacolone to repeat her performances against each (7 saves in 14 shots against Duke; 14 saves in 21 shots against North Carolina).
Carolina dominated Louisville, then-No. 3 Syracuse and Duke to end the regular season, so an Irish victory over the Tar Heels is far from a certainty.
STEP THREE: CLIP THE EAGLES?
If Notre Dame advances to the championship, they’ll likely play Boston College. (Syracuse, who lost to the Eagles by just two goals Feb. 16, likely represents the best shot of an upset, if there is to be one.)
Boston College’s precision passing, fast play and multiple scoring threats is a deadly mix that stymied the Irish during the Eagles’ 13-9 win April 3. Seven different Eagles scored at least one goal during that game and sophomore goaltender Abby Ngai, who is ninth in the nation in save percentage, was outstanding in that game.
The Irish struggled against Northwestern in the draw control circle, winning 10 of 28 faceoffs. If they’ll going to ruin Boston College’s unblemished record, they’ll have to do better than last time, which saw them win just 8 of 24 draw controls.
STEP FOUR: SCHEDULE WOES
Notre Dame’s season can be summarized like this:
They destroyed the weak teams, but hurt their strength of schedule. They had no bad losses, but they also weren’t consistent against the upper echelon teams.
Their best win, at this point, is against North Carolina, which was third in the RPI rankings.
The Irish (No. 9 RPI) lost to Boston College (No. 1 RPI), Syracuse (No. 5 RPI) and Northwestern (No. 7 RPI), but beat Virginia (No. 4 RPI).
Beating Duke (No. 28 RPI) will do nothing to improve their tournament seed. They’ll need a win against North Carolina, at minimum. Winning the ACC Tournament would be an automatic bid and ensure a first round bye as well.
The Irish are 7-12 in their 12 all time tournament appearances. Their best finish was third place in 2006.