By Jana Persky
For Stanford women’s lacrosse, the season opened with a loss to Notre Dame. Now, the team must fight to ensure its season doesn’t end the same way.
The No. 20 Cardinal (13-5, 8-2 MPSF) faces the No. 9 Fighting Irish (12-4, 5-3 Big East) in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament this Friday in Evanston, Ill. On Feb. 16, Stanford jumped out to a 7-2 halftime lead only to see the Fighting Irish roar back in the second half to take a 12-10 victory.
Stanford has previously appeared in the NCAA three times but has never advanced past the first round. In its last appearance in 2011, the Cardinal was eliminated with a 13-11 loss to Florida in the opening round. The Cardinal will look to reverse that trend against a Notre Dame team making its eighth NCAA appearance.
Despite the tough competition, the Cardinal is not shying away from another opportunity to face Notre Dame. Stanford junior goalkeeper Lyndsey Munoz said her team was “really excited” when it saw the draw.
“A lot of people might be surprised at that since they are obviously one of the best teams in the country,” Munoz said. “But after our first game—being up by so much at halftime and allowing them to come back in the second half—we all really want to get to redo that.”
The Fighting Irish have a first-team all-Big East selection in every zone of the field. Senior attacker Jenny Granger posted 31 goals and 22 assists this season to lead Notre Dame’s offense, while fellow first-team selection junior midfielder Margaret Smith contributed in all areas with 14 goals, 35 ground balls and 35 draw controls.
Sophomore defender Barbara Sullivan, who was also one of 25 players nominated for the Tewaaraton Trophy, picked up 49 ground balls this season for the seventh-best per-game average in the nation. She also made the top 10 in caused turnovers per game (2.00) and top 25 in draw controls per game (3.88).
In goal, Fighting Irish senior Ellie Hilling anchored a top-20 defense that allowed just 8.75 goals per game. Hilling posted a .467 save percentage while making 7.2 saves per game this season.
Stanford will use the momentum built through its run to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) championship last weekend. The Cardinal earned an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament by handily defeating Cal in the semifinals and knocking off top-seeded Denver 7-6 in the MPSF final.
“We peaked at the right time and played two really good games against two good teams,” said sophomore midfielder Hannah Farr. “Our offense played really well and we want to continue that.”
One key for the Cardinal will be remaining poised on both offense and defense. Munoz noted that Stanford gave away just three free-position opportunities for its opponents in the two-game tournament.
“Our defense was controlled, and there were very few fouls,” Munoz said. “That was great because before, we had kind of gotten away from that and were becoming more undisciplined.”
Munoz said that Stanford’s defense will be watching out for Notre Dame’s quick feeds, as the Fighting Irish have a tendency to send passes into players cutting to the goal even if they are only slightly open.
On offense, Stanford head coach Amy Bokker wants her team to continue with the sharp ball control and lack of turnovers that it displayed in the MPSF Tournament. Bokker also said that the team’s ability to shoot and finish effectively will be key if the Card wants to advance.
Farr has been on a tear as of late, tallying six goals and one assist in the MPSF Tournament to take Most Outstanding Player honors.
Junior attacker Rachel Ozer also had seven points on three goals and four assists over the two games. Ozer was recently named to the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) all-region second team after leading the Cardinal in scoring (47 goals, 22 assists) and recording a goal in 17 of 18 games this season.
Junior captain Anna Kim, who was also named to the IWLCA all-region second team, is second on the team in the points (31 goals, 11 assists) and draw controls (53). Junior defender Megan Lerner set the school record with 59 draw controls this season.
Munoz said the team is taking confidence from the way the Cardinal matched up with the Fighting Irish in the first half of February’s meeting and is hoping to put together a full game effort on Friday.
“The biggest thing is playing two halves consistently and keeping up the positive energy,” Munoz said. “With the playoffs, the next game is never guaranteed, so we have to lay it all on the line and give everything we have to come up with a win.”
The winner of the first-round game will face second-seeded Northwestern in the second round on Sunday at 11 a.m. That game would also be a rematch for the Cardinal, who lost to the Wildcats 12-8 on April 14 in Evanston.
“We all want to take this program to further heights than it’s ever gone,” Munoz said. “We want to finally get out of the first-round losses and make it to the second round and hopefully keep going.”
Contact Jana Persky at [email protected]