May 6, 2011

Irish Feel at Home in D.C. with Big East Bid on the Line

by Clare Lochary |

Shaylyn Blaney solved her shooting woes just in time to score four clutch goals in fourth-seeded Notre Dame's 15-12 upset of top-seeded Georgetown in the Big East semifinals Thursday.

WASHINGTON -- Notre Dame likes playing at Georgetown, at least in the Big East women's lacrosse tournament.

The Fighting Irish won their first and only Big East title in D.C. in 2009, upsetting two teams to do it. Following a 15-12 upset of the host and top-seeded Hoyas in Thursday's conference semifinal game, Notre Dame is headed to another Big East final and remains on track for an NCAA tournament berth.

"This is our home away from home," said head coach Tracy Coyne, whose team battled back from a 4-1 deficit in the first half.

The Fighting Irish will play No. 2-seeded Loyola on Saturday at 1 p.m. for the conference championship. The Greyhounds held off a late rally from No. 3-seeded Syracuse and prevailed, 12-11, in Thursday's first game. It will be Loyola's first-ever trip to a Big East final.

"The Big East, it's a battle with the parity of the teams. We've got powerhouse teams who could knock off anyone in the country," said Loyola head coach Jen Adams.

The Greyhounds won the regular season matchup, pulling away in the second half for a 13-10 win at Arlotta Stadium in South Bend, Ind., on April 3. The loss was tough for Notre Dame, but the low point came a week later when they lost 12-7 to Syracuse. At that point, their overall record was 5-7, including 2-2 in conference.

"We started off kind of slow. It just wasn't clicking," said senior attacker Shaylyn Blaney. "After Syracuse, it was do or die."

The Fighting Irish have since reeled off five wins in six games, with all the victories coming against Big East opponents. (The one loss was to Vanderbilt, 12-10, on April 20.) Coyne reemphasized fundamentals – draw controls and ground balls – to give her team a shot at the conference title and an NCAA bid.

"This season we had to get where we were being tactically smarter without impeding the flow of the game. If we didn't have the season we had, we wouldn't have won tonight," Coyne said.

After early draw trouble against Georgetown, Notre Dame spread out on draws and was more careful with possessions. They also had the green light to shoot, peppering Georgetown goalie Barb Black (three saves) with 33 shots. The Irish have been on an offensive tear lately – they've averaged 14.66 goals per game in their last six contests.

Blaney led the way against the Hoyas with four goals, including the final two of the game. Her third goal was one of the game's most impressive. After a hard Georgetown foul, a fired-up Blaney was awarded a free position at center hash and released a hard, rising shot to Black's non-stick side that the goalie had no chance to touch, giving the Irish a 14-12 lead with 5:13 left to play in the game. She added an insurance goal a few minutes later with a pinpoint shot to upper left corner to boost the lead to 15-12.

"My shots have been off all season and tonight, they had to fall and they did," Blaney said.

By contrast, Loyola has enjoyed something of a charmed season, riding a team-oriented defense and an attack led by Big East Offensive Player of the Year Grace Gavin, who scored four goals in the win over Georgetown and became the Greyhounds' all-time points leader earlier this season. Loyola began its season 12-0 before dropping two games to conference opponents Georgetown and Syracuse. Last week's 10-9 loss to the Orange was the result of a messy 12-of-20 clearing game, which the Greyhounds cleaned up for conference tournament play (10-of-12 on Thursday).

"We played on our heels last game, and today we played a lot more confident," said Adams, whose team jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first half and led 7-3 at the break.

Syracuse, which was in a must-win situation, clawed its way back, but the Greyhounds withstood the surge and captured a berth in the conference final.

"It's a big confidence booster," said senior defender Johanna Gibson, who face-guarded Syracuse leading attacker Michelle Tumolo. "We basically refused to lose, and now we're going to our first Big East championship game."

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