For all the flashy moves Cortney Fortunato displays on the lacrosse field as a high-scoring three-time All-American attack for Notre Dame, her best ones might come before the opening draw.
“We have a game-day tradition of having a dance party for about 45 minutes before the game starts,” Fortunato said with a laugh. “We have a playlist of songs that we go through and people just go crazy dancing before we even go out to warm up.”
Fortunato, who has lived up to her status as the nation’s No. 1 women’s lacrosse recruit coming out of Northport High School, hopes to keep the party going well into her senior year. She has led the Fighting Irish in scoring in each of her three seasons, posting her best statistics last season when she scored 64 goals and added 26 assists, while also forcing 31 turnovers and scooping 28 groundballs.
“I think that I’m a mix of everything, to be honest,” Fortunato said when asked to describe her game. “And I’ve been something different for my team every year. If it’s what my team needs, I’ll do that. Coming to Notre Dame, I could do everything, but I’ve gotten better at everything since I’ve been here and can do it all at a higher level.”
So this season, in order for Notre Dame (a top-10 team in preseason polls) to improve on last year’s 14-7 record, Fortunato will be asked to add a little defense to her game. Specifically, be part of the so-called 10-man ride that the school’s highly-ranked men’s team uses so effectively.
“It’s been really, really fun to see her play a middie in our press,” coach Christine Halfpenny said. “That’s something new we’re going to look for from her. She’s playing with that sense of urgency as a senior. She’s very confident in her skill set, but she’s constantly pushing herself to be better. We plan on using her everywhere. It’s exciting.”
Blessed with speed and superb stick skills, Fortunato is a preseason All-American and Tewaaraton Award candidate. She scored three goals in the season opener, a 14-13 loss to perennial power Northwestern and seven in an 18-2 win over Liberty on Friday. She has totaled 176 goals at Notre Dame after netting 388 in six varsity seasons at Northport, where she was coached by Suffolk County Sports Hall of Famer Carol Rose, who also coached Fortunato in summers on Rose’s nationally ranked Yellow Jackets.
“The college game is a lot faster, and playing in the ACC starting my first year was really tough,” Fortunato said. “But it wasn’t a huge transition because Coach Rose pushed everybody to play at such a high level. We were ready for college.”
What she wasn’t entirely ready for was the culture shock of going from Long Island, a hotbed of lacrosse, to Indiana, a hotbed of hoops. In that regard, Northport and South Bend were polar opposites.
“That was interesting,” she said, smiling. “Most people that live here don’t even know what lacrosse is, and some people on campus don’t know, either. But it’s gotten more popular, especially with the men’s team going to the Final Four a few times. We’ve been gaining support and recognition since I’ve been here, and the crowds are getting better.”
But on a campus where football rules and men’s and women’s basketball also have their own kingdoms, Fortunato is somewhat anonymous.
“People probably would’ve known who I was walking around campus if I’d gone to North Carolina, Maryland or Syracuse,” she said. “It’s different here, but it’s kind of nice, too. I don’t mind being under the radar a little bit and not having so much hype for lacrosse. It made we want to prove myself even more.”
So while she definitely has observed the Hoosier State’s passion for basketball — “Hoops are up everywhere you go and kids are playing” — she sees herself as a pioneer.
“It’s nice to spread the game out here and get people to know and like the sport,” Fortunato said. “I knew it would be different coming here and I thought maybe I could be part of something that was a first. I wanted the challenge of going somewhere they haven’t done it yet. Like maybe we could win a national championship [in women’s lacrosse] for the first time.”
That would be some last dance.
NEWSDAY’S NATIONAL TOP 10
7. Penn State
L.I. PLAYERS TO WATCH
Maggie Bill, North Carolina (Huntington/St. Anthony’s), M, Jr.
Preseason All-American red-shirted last season. Also a UNC soccer star.
Lindsay Darrell, Northwestern (West Islip), D, Jr.
One of four seniors, she’s a defensive stabilizer who also takes draws.
Caroline Fitzgerald, Florida (Mount Sinai), D, Sr.
Four-year starter is one of nation’s top defenders. Had 44 groundballs.
Cortney Fortunato, Notre Dame (Northport), A, Sr.
Three-time All-American scored career-high 64 goals with 27 assists.
Nadine Hadnagy, Maryland (Farmingdale), D, Sr.
All-American anchors back line for team that lost in NCAA finals to UNC.
Kyra Harney, Duke (Bay Shore), A, Jr.
Preseason All-American scored 51 goals but will run the offense this year.
Nicole Levy, Syracuse (East Islip), A, So.
Creative offensive player scored 46 goals with 22 assists in rookie season.
Kaitlyn Montalbano, Towson (West Islip/St. John the Baptist), M, Jr.
Started all 20 games and led team in goals (36), assists (23) and points (59).
Courtney Murphy, Stony Brook (Floyd), A, Sr.
Led nation in points (116), including an NCAA record 100 goals.
Kylie Ohlmiller, Stony Brook (Islip), A, Jr.
Quarterback of the offense had 47 assists to go with 44 goals.