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ND Women’s Soccer

Westendorf lives up to hype in freshman season

| Wednesday, September 28, 2016

It can be hard to live up to the hype of being a five-star recruit. Freshman forward Jennifer Westendorf had to deal with expectations for a big impact in her opening season at Notre Dame.

But the success Westendorf has had in her first 11 games for the Irish (7-1-3, 2-0-1 ACC) suggests dealing with those expectations hasn’t been a concern.

Irish freshman forward Jennifer Westendorf fires a shot during Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Missouri on Sept. 4 at Alumni Stadium.Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish freshman forward Jennifer Westendorf fires a shot during Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Missouri on Sept. 4 at Alumni Stadium.

Westendorf hit the ground running in her Notre Dame debut, scoring twice against Wright State. Since then, she’s added three more for the season to lead the Irish in goals, most recently volleying in the second tally in Notre Dame’s 4-0 home victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday. Westendorf’s other two goals were impressive efforts — a free kick to earn a 2-2 draw with Stanford and a curling shot from the edge of the box that proved to be the game-winning score in Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Missouri.

Westendorf had been a key prospect on the Irish recruiting radar for years, and she committed to the Irish in 2013 while Randy Waldrum was still the head coach. Irish head coach Theresa Romagnolo has had praise for her top scorer all season and said she could see right away that Westendorf had the ability to make her mark in her first season.

“I think, in the recruiting process when you watch players, the closer they get to coming to Notre Dame, you start to see what they can do,” Romagnolo said. “She was already at a really high level so we anticipated her coming in and having to make an immediate impact. She was here this spring as an early enrollee, so it was great to have her already immersed in the team. Jen is a special player — she’s capable of scoring in a lot of different ways.”

Westendorf showed what she could do during Notre Dame’s spring season this year, leading the team with four goals and adding two assists. She said her main challenge currently is maintaining her success on the field while balancing soccer with work in the classroom.

“I think adapting to the soccer aspect of it is something I got used to in the spring,” Westendorf said. “But now with the season going on and school, I think what’s hard for me is keeping up with my schoolwork and managing that with everything on the field I have to do.”

As a strong player with powerful left foot, Westendorf has found success in both creating chances for herself and other players. The forward said she believes her style of hold-up play works well with the players around her at Notre Dame.

“I really like the ball at my feet,” Westendorf said. “I like to post up on defenders and turn them and lay it off for other people to shoot it. I’m not one to make these runs, so I think it works well for my outside forwards that I play with like [junior] Kaitlin [Klawunder], [junior Meghan] Doyle, and [senior] Kaleigh [Olmsted]. They like to get these crosses in, and I like the ball at my feet. It works well together.”

Irish freshman forward Jennifer Westendorf settles the loose ball during Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Missouri on Sept. 4 at Alumni Stadium.Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish freshman forward Jennifer Westendorf corrals a loose ball during Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Missouri on Sept. 4 at Alumni Stadium.

Despite Westendorf’s early success, Romagnolo said she believes the freshman can still improve as her time at Notre Dame goes on.

“She’s still learning,” Romagnolo said. “She’s learning how to play the game at this college speed, she’s learning how to hold the ball against bigger, stronger defenders. So there’s still huge room for her to keep going this season. But right now, we can still see these great flares of what she can do, which is exciting.”

Westendorf said she is confident in her ability to keep improving upon her early success thanks to her team’s culture of working to improve one another — something she has been able to both take part in and benefit from.

“As a team, we all accept criticism and helpful tips from each other,” Westendorf said. “So I’d consider myself a leader, but I’d consider everyone else on the team a leader in the same way. We’re always giving each other help on the field and listening, too.”

Westendorf and the Irish will be in action again Saturday when they travel to Louisville. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Lynn Stadium.

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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