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ND Women’s Soccer

Irish welcome Tar Heels in ACC opener

| Thursday, September 18, 2014

The two most decorated programs in women’s college soccer clash for the 23rd time Saturday when No. 18 Notre Dame hosts No. 9 North Carolina at Alumni Stadium.

The Tar Heels (3-2-1) own 21 national championships, the most in NCAA history, with the most recent title coming in 2012. The Irish (5-2-1) have the second most, with three. North Carolina owns the 14-6-2 edge in the series, but recently the Irish have drawn even, splitting the last four matches.

Irish freshman defender Sabrina Flores keeps an attacker away from the ball during Notre Dame's 1-0 victory over Baylor on Sept. 12 at Alumni Stadium.Rosie Biehl | The Observer

Irish freshman defender Monica Flores keeps an attacker away from the ball during Notre Dame’s 1-0 victory over Baylor on Sept. 12 at Alumni Stadium.

Despite the historical implications of the game, Irish coach Theresa Romagnolo said she believes her team is not worried about facing the Tar Heels.

“I think we get up for every game,” Romagnolo said. “Obviously North Carolina is an exciting start to the ACC [schedule] so that’s also what we’re excited about. But I think we get up for every opponent.”

Like the Irish, North Carolina has faced a brutal non-conference schedule, playing four ranked opponents in six games. The team’s losses came to No. 4 Stanford and No. 12 Pepperdine.

Both the Tar Heels and the Irish pushed the Cardinal to overtime with the match scoreless, but North Carolina redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Lindsey Harris muffed an easy save in the 93rd minute to send the Tar Heels to a stunning opening-game loss. When Notre Dame faced Stanford, sophomore goalkeeper Kaela Little recorded six saves and shutout the Cardinal to preserve a 0-0 tie.

“In the first game, everyone is really learning about themselves,” Romagnolo said. “And that was [North Carolina’s] first game. Stanford is a good team. We saw them.”

Since then, North Carolina has allowed two goals in five games, lowering its goals against average to .465, which ranks 19th in the nation. On offense, the Tar Heels average only .67 goals per game but Romagnolo said the team is dangerous because of its ability to possess the ball for large chunks of the game.

“Carolina is very athletic,” Romagnolo said. “They like the high press. For us, it’s going to be about getting our possession game going but also looking for opportunities in the spaces when they open up.”

The Irish have outscored opponents 13-6 over eight games, but Romagnolo said the team must sharpen its killer instinct and finishing on scoring chances. Notre Dame has 124 shots on the season, for a shot percentage of .105.

“We’ve been working on breaking pressure,” Romagnolo said of the last week of practice. “We’ve also been working on creating more of an attacking mentality in the [offensive] third of the field. I think that the goals are going to start happening for us. We’re serving in the box and we’ve got some pretty good numbers on the goal. We just need to make sure that we jump in front of some defenders and be more proactive in getting the ball.”

Last weekend, facing unranked Toledo, Notre Dame struggled to finish, despite firing 12 shots. Sophomore midfielder Morgan Andrews eventually took control for the Irish, scoring twice to secure the 2-1 win. Romagnolo said she thinks any other forward or midfielder could make a similar impact against North Carolina.

“Morgan’s a midfielder but she was making runs in the box to make things happen,” Romagnolo said. “[So] it can really be anybody. They all have the personality to be able to finish.”

The game marks the beginning of ACC play for both teams. The Tar Heels finished third in the conference last season, while the Irish placed fifth.

Notre Dame and North Carolina renew their rivalry Saturday at Alumni Stadium. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

Contact Greg