Notre Dame Fends Off Virginia, 7-6 in #ACCWLAX Quarterfinals

Sexton’s Two Late Goals Help Fighting Irish Reach Semifinals

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. ( – Thursday’s Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Lacrosse Championship match between host Virginia and Notre Dame evolved into a defensive struggle, but the Fighting Irish found a mini-offensive flurry when it counted most.

Rachel Sexton scored twice in a span of less than two minutes late in the game to give fifth-seeded Notre Dame a three-goal cushion, and the Irish held off the fourth-seeded Cavaliers down the stretch for a 7-6 win at Klockner Stadium.

Notre Dame (10-8) moved on to face top-seeded North Carolina (14-2)in Friday afternoon’s semifinal matchup (1 p.m.; RSN and ESPN3).

Sexton’s goal off a pass from Grace Muller with 7:01 to play put Notre Dame ahead 6-4.  Sexton struck again with an unassisted goal at the 5:16 mark to make it 7-4.

Virginia (11-6) scored the final two goals of the match – an unassisted tally by freshman Kasey Behr with 2:47 left and Kelly Boyd’s third goal of the afternoon off a pass from Casey Bocklet with 20 seconds left – but the Fighting Irish held from there.

In addition to advancing to the semifinals for the first time in two seasons as an ACC member, Notre Dame snapped a two-game losing streak and earned a season sweep of the nationally fifth-ranked Cavaliers. The 11th-ranked Fighting Irish scored a 14-4 win in the regular-season meeting here April 4.

Notre Dame grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first half on Brie Custis’ free-positon goal and Heidi Annaheim’s score off an assist from Cortney Fortunato.

Virginia answered with a pair of goals in the final 3:14 of the half for a tie score at intermission. Boyd scored first to get the Cavaliers on the board, and Courtney Swan’s goal just eight seconds before the break evened things up at 2-2.

The score was tied at 3-3 in the second half before goals by Annaheim and Stephanie Toy gave the Fighting Irish a 5-3 lead with 10:24 remaining. Bocklet found Boyd with a pass for a Virginia score that made it 5-4 with 8:11 left, but Sexton’s two counter goals kept Notre Dame in control.

Notre Dame keeper Liz O’Sullivan finished with 12 saves, and Rachel Vander Kolk had 10 for Virginia. 


Notre Dame Head Coach Christine Halfpenny

On the game:
“We were thrilled with the victory. It’s our program’s first ACC tournament win, which is huge. We knew it was going to be a battle today and that it would be ugly. The last outing was the tale of a perfect Irish game and a not so perfect Virginia game, and we knew we weren’t going to see that again. We knew it was going to be a great matchup and it came down to two outstanding defenses. I have to credit my defense and goalkeeper. Liz O’Sullivan was amazing. Twelve stops, and when we needed them the most. I couldn’t be more pleased with that. Barbara Sullivan’s ability to get the draw and on only a 7-6 goal game is where you see the defense stepping in. I don’t think we would be where we are right now without the leadership of Barbara Sullivan and we are excited to carry that on and bring that in the game against North Carolina. Outstanding game and like I said we just needed one more today and we got it. Rachel Sexton came on strong today. Her only two goals came at the perfect time.”

Virginia Junior Attack Kelly Boyd

On having a home tournament:
“It would be the perfect year to win this year. It’s during finals so it’s always annoying to be travelling and trying to study. It sucks that we couldn’t make it happen, but what can you do.”

On Notre Dame’s defense:
“They have a lot of defenders with a lot of experience. They have a lot of juniors and seniors who have been in this position before. They throw a lot of really good checks that other teams don’t so we aren’t used to that. They played a great game and they were really good on the draw today. That’s what killed us, we couldn’t get the draw.” 

On the draw:
“The draw is pretty much the key to the game. It's how you win possession. This happened last time against them, and we thought we had a good plan today, but clarly we didn’t execute it.”

Virginia Head Coach Julie Myers

On the imbalance of possessions:
“Notre Dame did a great job on draws. They use their bodies really well so it looks kind of legal, but they just smash you with their bodies and not with their sticks. Clearly we just need to be bigger, stronger, and hold our ground better than that. But I thought we did a nice job of not turning the ball over too many times and causing some of their turnovers as well. We beat them to groundballs too, so possession was definitely lopsided, but I think we were able to get possessions in other ways.”

On Notre Dame match up:
“Looking back now two games into it, I would say that we don’t match up that well with Notre Dame. Clearly we did a much better job today. We did a much better job with our defense because we changed a few things there. But for one reason or another, our attacks were tentative. They were tentative with their passing and with going to the goal as well. I think everybody has a moment they would like to redo and shoot from a better spot with more accuracy.”

On not leading the entire game:
“As coaches, we wanted that lead because Notre Dame takes a lot of air out of the ball. They do a deliberate game and kill ten to twelve minutes of not even playing the game. We knew we needed to have the ball so that they couldn’t go into the delay because that would have forced us to play a different defense altogether. We kept it close enough so they couldn’t do it as obnoxiously as they could have, but clearly we needed a lead in this game.”

On goalkeeper Rachel Vander Kolk:
“I think Rachel made some big saves, but her defense in front of her gave her the chance to make some of those saves. There was much better pressure on the ball and better pressure on the cutters. Freshman Meghan Heick was our defender who face guarded Cortney Fortunato and I think that made a huge difference. She was 0 for 6 in the game, which was big. Megan’s face guard defense really did a nice job and I think our defense today did enough. Rachel made enough saves and the defense got back and supported her.”

Virginia Senior Midfielder Courtney Swan

On the game:
“I think we are all heart broken that if we had just played a little better we could have come out on top. We didn’t execute and we made mental mistakes throughout the game.”

On a missed breakaway:
“I just pulled it. It was one of those things that it’s almost worse when you have a 1-on-1 because you get a little more nervous. It was my bad I just pulled the shot a little wide.”

On what she did differently this game from last time she played Notre Dame:
“They play a different defense. They play a 3-2-2 zone, so we really worked on that. I still don’t think we got inside as much as we would have liked to, but the defense played amazingly. We really spent all week focusing on preparing them and we made a lot of adjustments from the last game.”