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ND Women’s Soccer

North Carolina gets revenge, hands ND a 2-1 loss in ACC semifinals

| Monday, November 7, 2016

The No. 6 Irish fell short in their quest to claim their first-ever ACC tournament title on Friday, losing a hard-fought game to No. 10 North Carolina, 2-1. Despite winning the program’s first regular season conference title, Notre Dame bowed out of the postseason tournament in the semifinals, losing to a team that it beat in the regular season.

While head coach Theresa Romagnolo was disappointed, she said there were still some positives to take from the game.

“I thought it was a great game,” she said. “Carolina played very well — I thought they pressed us really well defensively in the first half. I think we ran out of ideas, and tried to overplay at times, and I think in the second half, we came out much better. If we couldn’t play, we were able to put the ball in dangerous areas, and run into those dangerous areas, and we didn’t overplay as much out of the back. But Carolina did a great job of rotating a lot of players and playing that high-pressing system, so while I thought we addressed it and I was really proud that we got the goal back to get us back in the match — [it was] obviously disappointing to allow that second goal.

“I think both goals could have been prevented, so again, great learning experiences for us as we head into the NCAA tournament.”

Notre Dame senior forward Kaleigh Olmsted winds up to kick during a 1-0 Irish win over North Carolina State on Oct. 30 at Alumni Stadium.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Notre Dame senior forward Kaleigh Olmsted winds up to kick during a 1-0 Irish win over North Carolina State on Oct. 30 at Alumni Stadium.

The game began with North Carolina coming out aggressive, attempting to avenge its 1-0 loss to the Irish on Oct. 14. While Notre Dame’s defense was ranked second in the nation with 14 shutouts, the Tar Heels and their early pressure proved too much to handle, and the deadlock was broken in the 22nd minute. Irish junior defender Ginny McGowan committed a foul at the edge of the box, and the ensuing free kick hit the post and then was put in by junior Tar Heel defender Maya Worth to give her team the lead.

With one goal in the bag, North Carolina went after more, but the Irish defense and senior goalie Kaela Little dug in and held out until halftime, with a score of 1-0 and the Tar Heels leading the shot count, 9-3.

“I think they pretty much always play the way they play,” Romagnolo said of the Tar Heel aggression. “They’re a team that tries to limit your time on the ball and make you uncomfortable. I just thought we handled that better when we met them at home. We just played better [on Oct. 14]. But I also thought that their pressure was better on Friday … they were just flying at us and, at times, we didn’t show the composure to play out of those situations.”

Notre Dame came out of halftime looking for the equalizer, and the offense was much more involved. However, it took a mistake from North Carolina in the 72nd minute for the Irish to finally get back into the game. Junior Tar Heel midfielder Maggie Bill misplaced a back-pass to the goalie, and Irish senior forward and captain Kaleigh Olmsted pounced on the miscue, taking the ball around the North Carolina keeper and passing it into the net to tie it up.

Then, with a little more than four minutes left, the Tar Heels’ star freshman forward Bridgette Andrzejewski whipped in a cross, which found the foot of junior midfielder Annie Kingman, who slotted it past Little to put North Carolina back on top. The Irish failed register a shot in the final minutes, and North Carolina advanced to the ACC Championship, where it lost to No. 13 Florida State on Sunday.

“I think the second half was really positive,” Romagnolo said. “I thought we came out determined to get the goal back, and we did, we found a way to get it back, so I think that that showed great spirit. We battled, and we had a couple chances in the second half to go up 2-1, but we didn’t capitalize on them, and they got their chance and they did, so it was just one of those. It was a great back and forth game, I give a lot of credit to Carolina — they’re a great squad.”

The Irish now wait to find out who they will play in the NCAA tournament, and Romagnolo said the semifinals loss will serve as great preparation for the pressure of playing in win-or-go-home situations.

“I think it’s great preparation, to play in an ACC semi, at a neutral site — that’s what you’re going to see a lot in the NCAA tournament, so it’s a great dress rehearsal for the NCAA playoffs,” she said. “If you lose, you’re out, but at the end of the day, you want to put forth your best version of yourself when you step on the field, and not hold anything back.”

The Irish will find out their seeding and first-round opponent on Monday, with first-round games scheduled for Friday.

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About Tobias Hoonhout

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

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