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ND Women’s Soccer

Irish fall in first round of NCAA tournament in penalty kicks

| Monday, November 14, 2016

Second-seeded Notre Dame began its quest for a national championship on Friday night, hosting SIU Edwardsville.

110 minutes later, the Irish were out, losing 5-4 in penalties after a 0-0 draw.

It was a night of missed chances.

“Obviously, it was tough to swallow, but all in all I thought we played a good game,” Irish head coach Theresa Romagnolo said. “The team played like they have all year, and it was just not our night. We possessed, we defended well, we created chances, but the soccer gods were just not on our side, and that makes it so much harder, to go out like that. But I’m still so proud of this group. They battled in each game all year and were such a pleasure to coach, and really are a great example of what it means to be a team.”

Irish junior forward Karin Muya fights for the ball in Notre Dame's loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament to SIUE on Friday.Allison Culver | The Observer

Irish junior forward Karin Muya fights for the ball in Notre Dame’s loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament to SIUE on Friday.

Notre Dame (13-3-5, 7-1-2 ACC) dominated the game from start to finish, controlling possession and looking to create chances. The final product was lacking, however, as the Cougars (10-7-5, 6-3-1 OVC) sat back and forced the Irish to try and break them down. And when Notre Dame did get opportunities, junior goalkeeper Juli Rossi denied them, making eight saves to keep the game scoreless through regular time and overtime.

“I don’t know if I would call it a game plan,” Romagnolo said on the strategy. “I think they just adjusted to the fact that we had most of the possession and so they got behind the ball, which is what any team would do, so they just focused on defending and staying in the game and not letting us score. … Their keeper was one of the players we looked at before in film, so we knew she was a star player heading into it. But still, she made some unbelievable saves to pad her stats for sure, and it was just very tough to get one past her.”

The first real chance of the night came in the 17th minute, as Irish senior midfielder Sandra Yu crossed the ball in to freshman Jennifer Westendorf, whose header was saved off the post by Rossi. The rebound fell to junior forward Karin Muya, but Rossi made another save to deny her, and junior Meghan Doyle’s follow-up shot was blocked. It ended up being the best opportunity of the half, as SIUE hunkered down even more, limiting the Irish to corners and shots from distance.

After the break, it started in much of the same way as the first half, with Notre Dame controlling the ball and looking to break the deadlock. Westendorf looked to provide the spark, as she blazed a free kick over the bar from 30 yards out in the 50th minute, and then a few minutes later whipped a dangerous cross in that no one got on the end of. In the 66th minute, she crossed to Doyle at the back post, who had time but, in tune with the common theme of the night, shot high.

In the closing minutes of regulation, the Irish had some wonderful chances, only to be again denied by the heroics of Rossi. In the 82nd, a Doyle cross was headed on goal by junior Kaitlin Klawunder, but Rossi made a big save to deny her, and in the 88th, Olmsted had a rip from the top of the box, but Rossi once again was there on the save. When the whistle blew, the Irish had the shot advantage 21-3, but no goals to show for it.

In overtime, it was clear that SIUE was playing for penalties, and the Irish pushed forwards looking for the winner. In the 98th minute, Doyle crossed in to junior Megan McCashland, but her shot was wide. Notre Dame followed soon after with another chance, but a header from junior midfielder Taylor Klawunder was saved.

In the second overtime period, the Irish grew more and more desperate to find a winner and end the game before penalties. In the 113th minute the Klawunders had perhaps the best chances of the game, but Kaitlin’s shot was saved point-blank, and Taylor’s subsequent header went over the bar. At the end of the 20 minutes, SIUE hadn’t managed a single shot, but the game needed penalties to find a winner.

In penalties, both senior goalkeeper Kaela Little and Rossi made several saves to give their team a chance to win. But the moment of the game came on the third kick for the Cougars. After junior Katie Uhler’s shot was saved by Rossi to give SIUE the early advantage, Little saved the next kick from freshman forward Becca Jostes. But as she dove, the ball slipped from her hands and roll over the top of her into the goal, giving the Cougars the lead. Although she saved the next one, Little had missed a golden opportunity, and the mistake proved lethal. Six kicks later, SIUE junior Mariah Vollmer scored to give her team the win and the improbable upset.

“Kaela obviously didn’t have a lot of action in the game, she had to gather a couple of crosses and that was about it, but I thought she played well,” Romagnolo said. “And in a penalty shootout, you typically ask your keeper to make one or two saves to win you the game, and she did that so I think she really did all we asked. And with that one that she saved and it somehow rolled over her and into the net, I’ve never seen that, like how does the ball do that? I mean that is about as unlucky as you can get, and soccer is a tough game, and to go out like that hurts a lot, and my heart goes out to her and the rest of our seniors on an amazing year. But still, it hurts.”

Although it was certainly a tough moment for the ACC regular-season champions, Romagnolo said she is extremely proud of the group.

“I’m just so proud of how this team played together and how the attitude was so positive, and they grew so much from August until now. The seniors set the example on how to just be yourself, and everyone embraced their roles, and we just focused in the moment and one game at a time. And we had everyone contributing. Like Megan McCashland, who comes off the bench for us, she scored two game winners. And Kaitlin Klawunder, who has had a great impact. It was just so awesome to see how this group grew together, and I’m so proud of them. They set a great standard but I know the group returning will be eager to use this as motivation as we move forward.”

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby is a junior PLS/Economics double major from Smithtown, New York.

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