ND Women’s Soccer
Little stands her ground between the posts
Greg Hadley | Wednesday, September 10, 2014
As the minutes dragged by and No. 4 Stanford did not score, Notre Dame sophomore goalkeeper Kaela Little felt no pressure. When regulation time ran out, overtime began and the No. 19 Irish could not manage any offense, Little still did not cave. A second overtime came and went, and still Little held on.
When it was all said and done, Notre Dame (3-2-1) tied the Cardinal (4-0-1), 0-0, to cap off a two-game unbeaten road trip in California. It was the first time Stanford has been shut-out all season and Little’s third clean sheet of the year. She set a season high in saves, with six, and weathered 14 shots over 110 minutes of play.
“[When] you’ve gone 90 minutes without giving up a goal, 20 extra minutes … comparatively, isn’t that much,” Little said. “Going into overtime, our mindset was that the defense is happy with a tie and the offense, we’re going for the win. In the end we got our result.”
Little’s success in goal for the Irish this year is not surprising, considering the impact she made in her freshman campaign.
Before the Tulsa, Okla., native came to Notre Dame, no goalkeeper had started more than 20 games for the Irish since the 2010 NCAA title squad. Competing for the starting spot against a sophomore and two juniors, Little impressed then-coach Randy Waldrum enough to earn the opening-match start against Illinois. From there on out, Little has become one of Notre Dame’s most reliable players, logging over 2,000 minutes in the net and allowing .89 goals per game. She allowed only two goals in the NCAA tournament, both of which came off penalty kicks.
At the season’s end, Little was voted most valuable freshman on the team, ahead of midfielder Morgan Andrews, who led the team in goals and was named ACC freshman of the year.
“That meant a lot to me,” Little said. “It was very humbling and a very proud moment knowing that my teammates thought that much of me to vote for me to win that award.”
Little was the first freshman since 2010 to start every single match, and only the third freshman goalkeeper to do so in program history.
While Waldrum departed in the offseason and new coach Theresa Romagnolo arrived in the spring, Little remained Notre Dame’s go-to option in goal. After sitting out the exhibition season, she returned to the starting role and allowed one goal over the first two games of the year, winning both matches. The sole goal she surrendered came on a corner kick from Illinois in the 22nd minute of the game.
The Irish, however, stumbled during the Notre Dame Invitational on Aug. 29, after taking an early lead against No. 7 Texas Tech only to surrender two second-half goals within 25 seconds of each other. Little struggled on both scores, with one of the shots glancing off her glove into the net. After the loss, Little did not play in the team’s 2-1 loss to USC two days later.
“After the weekend we had, especially losing to [Texas] Tech that way and then USC, we just came back with the mentality of representing the name across our chests [in] everything we do, the big things [and] the little things,” Little said. “We really pounded that mindset in the next week.”
Little and the Irish bounced back when they traveled to Santa Clara, Calif., to take on the No. 24 Broncos. The Notre Dame defense blanketed Santa Clara, allowing just one shot on goal, which Little saved, while the offense produced two goals for the 2-0 win.
“I knew that if I made a mistake, my back line and my team had my back and I had theirs’,” Little said.
Little also benefits from a veteran defensive line that includes senior Sammy Scofield and junior captain Katie Naughton, she said. Still, as the season goes on, Little said she wants to develop as a defensive leader in her own right.
“There are moments when I think I am somewhat of a leader,” Little said. “But you can always grow and become a better leader, obviously. … The team goal is to win the national championship and my goal is to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
Little and Notre Dame take the pitch at Alumni Stadium on Friday to face Baylor at 7 p.m.