Apr 12, 2013, 1:44 PM EDT
The fifth-ranked Irish are off to their first 10-0 start since 2003-2004 and the first in the Christine Halfpenny era, and they have punished opponents using an up-tempo offensive attack that put up 13 goals on Sunday against Cincinnati. Just over the halfway point in the season, the Irish are starting to get into the meat of the schedule with the next five opponents ranked in the top twenty of the deBeer Media Poll.
The Irish next face 20th-ranked Loyola (Md.) before opposing three straight BIG EAST foes leading up to a showdown with #2 Northwestern. Notre Dame is taking its success and recent national attention in stride, as the team knows greater things could lie ahead if it continues to concentrate.
“We haven’t really acknowledged [the attention]. We definitely want to put our names in the books but it has been in the back of our minds. We see our next game as a chance to be 11-0,” senior attack Jaimie Morrison, who is currently second in goals with 34, said. Morrison was also named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll this week along with defensive teammate Barb Sullivan.
The team also got some advice from an ally who knows plenty about managing success and the media attention granted to teams performing at a high level. “We try our best to ignore [the national attention] but sometimes you can’t. Right now we are ranked fifth but we still don’t think we’ve really proven anything. We have a lot more to work for. Brian Kelly came and talked to us before practice yesterday. He said the more you focus on those outside things, the less likely your goals are going to happen,” the sophomore defender Sullivan said.
The Irish offense has scored over 10 goals in all but one of its games (nine goal performance against Rutgers) and over 15 goals in three performances. The offense has relied on some standout athletes to gain an advantage when possessing the ball. “We try to take control. We have a lot of talent on our offense, whether it’s the starters or the people waiting to go in. We can go as hard as we want for as long as we want and know that we have the depth to sub in and out,” Morrison said. Sullivan thinks Notre Dame relies on its veteran leadership to stand out not only on offense, but also all over the field. “Margaret Smith and Jenny Granger have been doing a really great job as our captains. Our goalie Ellie Hilling is a four-year starter who steps up every game. Jaimie Morrison and our seniors have been doing a great job,” she added.
Notre Dame doesn’t just step on the field and win games. The day-to-day operations of the team leads to success when the lights go on and the first whistle blows. “We’ve been working really hard in practices, which are sometimes harder than the games themselves. I still don’t think we’ve had our complete game yet, which is really exciting. We just need to continue to work hard and we love to win,” Sullivan said. Morrison points to the mental mindset of the team and the fact that the student-athletes prefer not to get ahead of themselves when looking at their opponents. “I think preparation has been the major key. We prepare for one game at a time and that is our mental mindset heading into each game. We aren’t looking at the whole season or the postseason,” Morrison said.
The Irish defensive unit has been equally as impressive as the offense during the course of the season. Molly Shawhan, Emily Conner, and Sullivan, who has a team-high 40 ground balls, sure up a solid back end. “We are a tight unit back there. There’s a freshman, two sophomores, a senior, and a senior goalie. We all work really hard and we are a very talented group of players. I am excited to see where we go,” Sullivan said. Nobody can forget about the senior goalie Ellie Hilling, who has 145 saves and the most wins in program history with 40. “Ellie, who has started since day one, does a great job in the goal. Everyone trusts her knowing she is in the back of the field,” Morrison said.
Going forward, the Irish are looking to continue to develop a consistency in their efforts on a game-by-game basis. Notre Dame has played extremely well at times this season, and the team really wants that to continue during the latter part of the year. “I just want to keep doing what we’re doing. We need to take one game at a time. The next couple of games are huge. We have the BIG EAST rivals, which get our blood pumping. I don’t want to stop this momentum,” Morrison said.
Sullivan can’t help but look ahead at some of the overarching goals of the program in the second year of the tenure of a new coach who brings a winning mentality and has set the precedence of higher expectations. “We are definitely looking to win a BIG EAST Championship and stay undefeated at home, but ultimately get to the Final Four in Philly,” Sullivan said. If the Irish finish the season as hot as they have started, the team may just get there.
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