Sophomore forward Melissa Henderson’s three goals highlighted a five-goal first half for No. 5/7 Notre Dame, who sent South Florida packing with a dominant 5-0 victory in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament Sunday at Alumni Stadium.
“I thought [our performance] was great,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “We only had one game this week and you always worry that with a longer week you might lose your rhythm and not come out sharp, but that didn’t happen.”
Henderson got the Irish (15-3-1, 10-0-1 Big East) on the board in the 11th minute when junior defender Julie Scheidler’s cross into the 18-yard box found Henderson, who calmly settled the ball and drilled a low shot into the back of the net. Just five minutes later, Henderson found herself on the receiving end of another cross, this time from junior Lauren Fowlkes, sending a strong volley past a helpless Bulls keeper. The reigning Big East Rookie of the Year completed the hat-trick on an unassisted effort in the 29th minute.
Not only were the Irish at the top of their game on the offensive end, but also completely smothered the Bulls on the defensive end. Notre Dame conceded just four shots on goal the entire game, none of which were on frame.
“[Our defensive effort] was pretty phenomenal,” Waldrum said. “When you can go 90 minutes and keep them off the board, that’s an outstanding effort. What was more impressive is that we got some other players in that don’t normally play and we were still able to stay strong defensively.”
After Fowlkes netted her eighth goal of the season in the 34th minute to expand the Irish lead to four, Waldrum brought a number of players off the bench to give his starters some well-deserved rest.
“It’s always very important this time of the year [to rest some of our starters if possible],” Waldrum said. “Some of our key players who have carried us the whole season haven’t been able to get much rest. Being able to get them some rest heading into the later rounds of the Big East Tournament and the NCAA’s is good all the way around.”
One substitute who was able to make the most of her opportunity was sophomore Ellen Jantsch. Late in the first half, Jantsch ran onto a chip into the box from junior Rose Augustin and sent a high header just past the diving Bulls keeper who couldn’t swat it away before it crossed the goal line.
Three Irish goalkeepers combined for the shutout victory in which neither was forced to make a save. Junior Nikki Weiss played the entire first half, before giving way to senior Kelsey Lysander and freshman Maddie Fox who split time in the second half.
The victory sends Notre Dame into the Big East semifinals where they will face a Saint John’s team which they haven’t seen since 2007. The Red Storm (13-5-1, 6-4-1) advanced to the semifinal round after a 1-0 double-overtime victory over Georgetown Sunday.
“It’s been a while since we’ve faced [Saint John’s], but they are always very physical and real solid defensively,” Waldrum said. “We know they are going to be good. Any team that is able to make it this far into the tournament is certainly a good team.”
The Irish will travel to Storrs, Conn. for their semifinal showdown with Saint John’s scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday. The winner will move on to face the winner of the West Virginia-Marquette matchup in the Big East Championship Final Sunday.