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ND Women’s Soccer

Notre Dame starts season strong against Wisconsin at home

| Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Between graduating a highly-rated senior class and losing players to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, No. 13 Notre Dame begins 2016 with a team that looks very different to 2015’s squad. But so far, a few important facts are the same: two games, two wins, zero goals conceded.

The Irish (2-0, 0-0 ACC) opened the season Friday with a comfortable 3-0 home win against Wright State (0-1, 0-0 Horizon), and it didn’t take long for freshman forward Jennifer Westendorf to show why she was considered one of the top prospects in last year’s recruiting class.

In the fourteenth minute of the game, Westendorf effortlessly flicked the ball over a defender to senior forward Kaleigh Olmsted, who set the freshman free down the wing. Westendorf cut inside at the edge of the box and curled a shot into the near post for her first official Notre Dame goal. Less than two minutes into the second half came the second, as Westendorf tapped in an Olmsted cross from close range. Junior midfielder Taylor Klawunder finished the game off midway through the second half, scoring at the second attempt in a goal-mouth scramble.

Junior forward Karin Muya said the team’s entire attacking unit put in an impressive performance.

Irish freshman forward Jennifer Westendorf angles around a defender during Notre Dame’s 1-0 victory over Wisconsin on Sunday. Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish junior forward Karin Muya angles around a
defender during Notre Dame’s 1-0 victory over Wisconsin on Sunday.

“I think that we were very attacking-minded,” Muya said. “We were very efficient with our chances, very good at executing and finishing. Westendorf especially, she got two good goals.”

It wasn’t so comfortable for the Irish on Sunday at Alumni Stadium against Wisconsin  (1-1, 0-0 B1G), with only an own goal dividing the teams, but it was Notre Dame who came out on top. The Irish created few clear cut chances, but a low cross from Muya intended for Westendorf was too much for senior Badgers defender Kylie Schwarz, who could only send it into the bottom corner of the net.

Muya said Westendorf’s positioning and Irish head coach Theresa Romagnolo’s advice both contributed to the goal.

“It was a good ball played from the midfield out wide, and I just drove down the line,” Muya said. “I remember coach telling me when I came on to take people on [1-on-1], so I did that and I put in the cross and if the defender hadn’t deflected it in, I’m sure Jenn Westendorf would have scored, but the defender was going backwards and she just hit it in.”

“The whole game though, I think we fought well. It was a tough game, and we were rattled but they didn’t rattle us completely. We were just more scrappy and more focused on fighting and getting to win.”

The Irish have managed to open the season with two wins despite only returning six players who started nine or more games from 2015. Top scorer Anna Gilbertson and star center-back Katie Naughton are among the losses from a senior class that was rated as the top recruiting class in the country in 2011, while sophomore Natalie Jacobs and junior Sabrina Flores will miss the entire season due to their involvement with the USA team for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. Westendorf and junior Monica Flores will also miss the postseason due to their involvements with the Brazil and Mexico squads, respectively. Muya said the remaining players are ready to step up.

“I think that most people who look at Notre Dame think, ‘Wow, they lost a lot of seniors, they lost a lot of starters,’” Muya said. “That senior class was the number one recruiting class in the nation, so we’ve lost a lot of big time starters. But now everyone might be underestimating us, and we’ve prepared as a team the whole spring and the summer in France and even into preseason. It’s going to be a tough season, but we’re ready.

“We’re losing some hugely important players. We’re effectively losing three starters from last year because of the World Cup. But the team has prepared for this loss. We’ve established a strong mentality and in preseason we came up with a slogan for our team — ‘fight for 29,’ which basically means that there are 29 members of this team. Some of those players won’t be with us because they’re at the World Cup, some will be there partially like Monica [Flores], some are injured, like [junior defender] Paige Crowley, who looked like she could have done big things this season but she tore her ACL. So we came up with the whole ‘fight for 29’ thing because regardless of whether you’re going to be at the World Cup or you’re injured or otherwise can’t play, whoever’s going to be playing — whether you’re a substitute or a starter — we’re all going to have the same fighting mentality.”

Next up for the Irish is a trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they face the rival Wolverines. Kick-off at U-M Soccer Stadium is slated for 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Contact Daniel