Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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50 APRIL 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED ND SPORTS BY TODD D. BURLAGE F reshman Madison Ahern felt right at home at Notre Dame months before she even called it her new home for the next few years. A prep lacrosse star and the na- tion's No. 2-ranked recruit from Co- hasset, Mass., Ahern was well aware that state championships, scoring re- cords and high school All-America honors would mean nothing in col- lege. Anxiousness ruled. "The transition was kind of in- timidating," Ahern recalled of her pending 900-mile relocation. "Obvi- ously, it's a faster game in college. You don't really know how you're going to hold up to some of the older players on the field when you're a freshman. I'm very happy with how it has turned out so far." As she should be. Ahern and the entire Notre Dame women's lacrosse team have more than exceeded preseason expectations so far this year. Highlighted by a Val- entine's Day upset of No. 3 North- western — a program considered women's lacrosse royalty with seven national titles and 11 Final Fours — the Irish started the season 6-0 and climbed to No. 2 in the national polls. Blissfully playing in only the second game of her collegiate career, Ahern finished with a team-high five points (three goals and two assists) against Northwestern, an early season per- formance this front-line attacker said was rooted in intense preseason work and her veteran teammates' support. Ahern leads a diverse group of top Irish scorers this season that includes two freshmen, two juniors, one senior and a fifth-year senior in the top six. Junior attacker Maddie Howe, a preseason All-ACC selection, is among that group. Howe explained that a commitment to create a "class blind" and all-in- clusive culture within the program has allowed the newbies to immedi- ately fit in off the field, thrive on it and become entrenched in the program barely six months after joining it. "This team has fifth-year players and freshmen who are best friends," ex- plained Howe, part of a veteran group that routinely texted and corresponded with the incoming freshmen while they were still in high school. "Col- lege is a scary transition for anyone. So we make sure that the freshmen feel comfortable and feel like they can be themselves early in the process." The caretaker and force behind the positive culture and early season suc- cess is ninth-year head coach Chris- tine Halfpenny, who recently notched her 100th career win at Notre Dame. But in typical fashion, Halfpenny deflected all personal credit for the milestone win to her players. "You don't get wins unless your players are getting them for them- selves," said Halfpenny, who is chas- ing her second straight NCAA Tour- nament bid this season and the eighth during her nine years at the helm. "I told the team after the game, these are their wins, and I just feel really grateful to have the opportunity to be here." ✦ Blend Of Veteran And Youth Lifting Women's Lacrosse Freshman Madison Ahern paced the Fighting Irish with 23 points (14 goals and nine assists) during a 6‑0 start that vaulted them to No. 2 in the national rankings. PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA BASEBALL (10‑2, 3‑0 ACC) The Fighting Irish won 10 of their first 12 games this season, including a three-game sweep at North Carolina March 6-8 during which they outscored the Tar Heels 33-21. FENCING Notre Dame fencers swept all available ACC titles, with the No. 3 women and No. 5 men each earning their fifth team championship in six seasons Feb. 22-23 in South Bend. MEN'S GOLF The No. 12 Irish finished ninth out of 15 teams with a 2-over-par 290 at the rain-shortened Do- rado Beach Collegiate Feb. 23 in Puerto Rico … Notre Dame placed third out of 15 squads with a 3-over 867 at the Colleton River Collegiate March 2-3 in Bluffton, S.C. WOMEN'S GOLF Notre Dame tied for 10th out of 16 squads at the Westbrook Spring Invitational Feb. 23-24 in Peoria, Ariz. HOCKEY (15‑15‑7, 9‑9‑6 BIG TEN) The Irish posted a 2-2-2 mark in their final three series of the regular season against Min- nesota, at Michigan and versus Michigan State … Notre Dame finished fifth in the Big Ten with 37 points … In the best-of-three Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals March 6-8, Notre Dame notched a 1-0 win over fourth-seeded Minnesota before being eliminated with 2-1 and 3-2 defeats. MEN'S LACROSSE (2‑2) No. 13 Notre Dame opened the season with a pair of decisive wins (17-7 over Cleveland State and 13-5 versus Richmond) before falling 14-9 at No. 7 Maryland Feb. 29 and 14-11 to Denver March 7. SOFTBALL (12‑9, 2‑4 ACC) Notre Dame notched a 12-9 record during the first month of the season … The Irish started ACC play by taking two of three at Duke Feb. 28-March 1, but lost all three at NC State March 7-8. MEN'S SWIMMING & DIVING The No. 18 Irish notched a sixth-place showing at the ACC Championships Feb. 26 in Greensboro, N.C. WOMEN'S SWIMMING & DIVING No. 12 Notre Dame placed fifth with 784 points at the ACC Championships Feb. 19 in Greensboro, N.C. MEN'S TENNIS (6‑7, 2‑1 ACC) The Irish won six of their first 13 duals of the spring, including a 2-1 start in ACC play. WOMEN'S TENNIS (11‑5, 3‑2 ACC) Notre Dame captured 11 of its first 16 matches this season, including a 3-2 start in ACC play. TRACK & FIELD The Irish women posted a third-place finish and the men came in fourth at the ACC Indoor Championships Feb. 28-29 in South Bend. — Steve Downey Irish Roundup

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