Vanderbilt lacrosse wins in comeback thriller against No. 12 Notre Dame

The Vanderbilt Commodores faced a tough test against the No. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in their second game of the 2022 campaign, coming from behind to win 14-12.

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Vanderbilt Athletics

Vanderbilt lacrosse celebrates an upset victory over No. 12 Notre Dame on Feb. 19, 2022. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Frankie Sheehy, Staff Writer

Amid a busy weekend across the Vanderbilt athletic facilities, the Commodores lacrosse team won their second game of the season in a 14-12 thriller against the No. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The effort was led by a career-high four-goal performance from sophomore midfielder Ellie Hilsabeck as well as solid defense as the game progressed. 

The Commodores fell behind early but came back in the second quarter before an exciting second half ended in a 14-12 victory. It’s the Commodores’ second win of the season and their first against Notre Dame since 2011.

“It was absolutely awesome. A huge team effort,” Hilsabeck told The Hustler. “We have so many amazing leaders on the team that are able to bring us all together in those times that we’re down and keep going.”

The first goal of the game went to Notre Dame’s Madison Ahearn on the power play. Ahearn added her second just seconds later, as the Commodores struggled to sustain possession in the opening minutes. Within just 43 seconds of the visitors’ first goal, the Irish had a 3-0 lead and Vanderbilt head coach Beth Hewitt called a timeout. 

The Commodores got a couple minutes on the attack afterwards, but a costly turnover by senior Karlie Bucci sent Notre Dame the other way, and it was quickly 4-0. Vanderbilt finally got on the scoreboard nearly 10 minutes in, as freshman midfielder Josie Ward scored her first goal of the season on a free-position shot. Fifth-year senior Gabby Fornia made it 4-2 a minute later to put the Commodores back in the game. Fornia was coming off of last week’s eight-point performance that made her the AAC Attack Player of the Week. Senior Maddie Souza scored her first of the season, but Notre Dame added two more to take a 6-3 lead through the first frame.

The Commodores looked much more settled in the second quarter than in the first. Freshman Molly Finlay came off the bench to get the first goal of her college career five minutes into the period. After a power play came up empty, Bucci was able to put the Commodores within one at 6-5. Hilsabeck found the net on a shot off the grass to tie the game up. The Commodores allowed just five shots on goal in the second quarter, all but the last of which were saved by junior goalkeeper Paige Gunning. Ahern recorded her hat trick to put the Irish up 7-6 going into the break, but Vanderbilt would certainly have taken that score given the first few minutes of the game.

“I think it just took us a little bit of time to settle in, and then we shook it off and played our lacrosse,” Hewitt said after the game. “We know what we’re trying to accomplish. I think it just took us a little bit of time to get going.”

The Commodores started the second half with a long attacking sequence that used nearly the whole shot clock before Bucci finally put the ball in the net, tying the game again. Less than five minutes into the half, Fornia scored her second of the game to give the Commodores their first lead of the day. The Irish responded quickly though, as Madison Mote tied the game at 8-8 midway through the quarter. Hilsabeck put Vanderbilt back in front after breaking to the net and getting a pass from Fornia to find the goal. Notre Dame tied it yet again after a rare defensive miscue that left the net empty. A free-position goal by Souza was the last of the third, giving the Commodores a 10-9 lead.

Hilsabeck completed her hat trick with a free-position goal in the fourth quarter, but the Irish responded quickly to get the lead back down to one. Souza got her own hat trick a couple minutes later on an assist by sophomore Ella Smith. Senior Callie Sundin got on the scoreboard to make it 13-10. A run of two goals within a minute by Notre Dame cut the deficit to just one, setting up for an exciting last five minutes. 

A late yellow card allowed Vanderbilt a man advantage, which they used to take nearly the full shot clock before Hilsabeck’s fourth put the Commodores up 14-12. The Fighting Irish put one last attack together, but Gunning was able to gain control and run the final seconds off the clock.

Much of the credit for the win must go to the Commodores’ defensive effort, including Gunning’s 11 saves and fifth-year senior Melissa Hawkins, who forced 2 turnovers and won 3 ground balls. 

“We just went a little more high-pressure instead of letting them do what they wanted to do on offense. We wanted to make more of an impact on their attackers. I thought the defense really committed to that,” Hewitt said of the team’s defensive effort.

The Commodores are now 2-0 after notching their highest-ranked win since 2020. The team plays its first road game next, visiting Elon on Feb. 25.