Nov 5, 2012, 9:40 AM EDT
After an offseason of preparation and intense fall competition consisting of marquee match-ups with Marquette, Ohio State, Northwestern and Duke, the 2012-2013 Irish women’s lacrosse team is right where it wants to be heading into the winter conditioning program. The Irish will prepare for the spring season looking to build on an NCAA tournament appearance and a top recruiting class of ten freshmen.
The fall slate helped the Irish figure out what they need to work on and how players will fit into the different openings on the field. With twenty returning players and eight seniors, the mixture of underclassmen and experienced leadership will allow for balance across the lines and a fresh infuse of energy for a team that will have a great deal of hype surrounding it after going 13-5 a year ago. The Irish also have two new assistant coaches this year to aid second year head coach Christine Halfpenny. Jill Byers (‘09) is one of the most accomplished women’s lacrosse players to ever put on the blue and gold, and Jake Marmul was a savvy player himself for the Irish men’s team, graduating in 2011. I got the chance to sit down with a confident Coach Halfpenny in order to get her take on the fall season and what to look for from women’s lacrosse in the near future.
Rich Hidy: How did the fall season go and what have you learned about your team?
Christine Halfpenny: We added ten freshmen to the mix while graduating a lot of scoring power. We lost three mainstays defensively. We had some question marks heading into this year. The first week of practice we found out that we are incredibly fast, very athletic, and deep. The freshmen that we brought in have a high lacrosse IQ. We had six dates in these fall competitions including the alumni game, which was a good experience to bring back players that have been integral to the program in the past. I was pleasantly surprised with the fall and I have some tough choices to make in terms of the lineups because we are so deep. I was rotating about twenty girls in. Raw intangibles are very strong this year. We are psyched about how we played.
RH: How important are your freshmen this season?
CH: They have been awesome. From top to bottom, they are incredibly talented. With recruiting happening earlier, they had extra time to get better before they came here. Many of them have wowed us with the strides they have taken since committing. They are very balanced as a unit, including the redshirt freshmen. We can field an entire squad with just those players. We have three low attackers, three defenders, and four midfielders. Many of them have played in the highest caliber high school games, including the Under Armor All-American game, and are coming off of championship seasons. They were ready to go with naïve bliss from the get go. That increased the competition level of the returners as well. The early exit from the NCAA tournament was still fresh after they had been working all summer. Coming off of the Duke tournament, some of them have gotten into their comfort zones and really have developed, which is nice to see. There has been a seamless transition for many of them. We have a draw unit, two dominant lefties, and goal scorers. This adds a whole other dimension for us as a team. They are fun and exciting girls. The culture change, which began last year, is starting to really take shape.
RH: How have your new assistant coaches helped you since they have gotten here?
CH: They are an extra set of hands helping with a number of different things. It is a natural progression for us as a program with so much newness and basic strategies being implemented last year. We established our Irish standards last season, and bringing in alumni this year helps us tremendously. They understand Notre Dame and don’t have to sell the school because they bleed it. They both have been to Final Fours and have an outstanding effort level. Another dimension they bring is the youthful understanding that a head coach needs. They are very much in tune with this day and age of a student-athlete. They have unfinished business around here, so the motivation level is high. Jake (Marmul) brings the men’s side. He is looking at the game completely different angle than any of us, which is beautiful. Jill (Byers) brings a savvy offensive skill set. She specializes on the draw, which can result in a possession or a loss in possession. They want the taste of success as bad as any of us.
RH: Has anyone stepped up as the leader of the team so far?
CH: We got a preview from our graduates of the leadership picture for this year’s team. We also got a hint over the summer months. We wanted to allow our players to develop throughout the course of the fall because of so much newness to see who rose to the top in the leadership category. We have started to identify some leadership and I’m curious to see what happens when we lay out the ballot. It is not a popular vote. We hold our captains to a very high standard. They have to be confident in leading teammates, selfless, and able to make tough choices. Our leadership defensively has been tremendous. The leaders we have identified so far expand every class. They will be announced before winter break. It is a great opportunity for our team to take accountability and ownership on the field.
RH: What are your goals leading up to the season?
CH: We want to fine tune basics. Coming off of the weekend, I need to find a way to be creative in teaching ground ball technique. Heading into November, we start our training program. It is eight hours a week of strength and conditioning, speed training, and a little bit of fun too. It isn’t uncommon for our team to play a pickup game of basketball with high tops to watch out for injuries. We also take some spinning classes because it is a long season and we want to take the necessary steps to keep our players as healthy as possible. We run two-hour practices a week with our sticks. One is like a summer camp session and the other is where we can focus on our playbook. We are going to focus on allowing our leaders to step up, get back to basics and our draw unit, take a look at our offense, and hone in on the fundamentals. We had a very strong start to the fall. On a scale of 1-10, the players have given themselves a seven or an eight on average, which is awesome. Now it’s time to be the best at the basics. Everything is going to focus on that when the season starts. We have a lot of enthusiasm surrounding this program.
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