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ND Women’s Soccer

Bender: Notre Dame can prove ACC title is not a fluke

| Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Coming into this season, hopes are high for No. 24 Notre Dame.

The Irish are coming off an impressive 2016 campaign in which the team lost a single conference game all season, and many of the team’s key playmakers from last year will once again be strapping on the cleats for the blue and gold. As such, the buzz around Irish head coach Theresa Romagnolo’s squad will continue as long as it keeps up last season’s high level of play. And in two games thus far in the 2017 season, it is on the road to doing exactly that.

Irish sophomore forward Jennifer Westendorf attempts to cut off an opponent during Notre Dame's 1-0 win over Wisconsin on Aug. 21, 2016 at Alumni Stadium.Observer File Photo

Irish sophomore forward Jennifer Westendorf attempts to cut off an opponent during Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Wisconsin on Aug. 21, 2016 at Alumni Stadium.

Regular season play opened Friday when Notre Dame tied with Butler with the game finishing scoreless in the Irish home opener at Alumni Stadium. Despite a number of the players coming off injuries and lacking practice minutes, Notre Dame was still able to control the attack throughout the match. Additionally, sophomore goalie Brooke Littman was given the nod in her first career start, a game in which she tallied two saves and notched a shutout. Despite some of the positives, the team left something to be desired out on the pitch, and the team answered the call by coming up with a huge 4-0 win over Ball State on Sunday. The Irish offense continued its strong efforts from last year, coming up with 23 shots — 13 of which were shots on goal — on the night. The four goal count marks the highest total by Notre Dame since September of last season against Pittsburgh.

The Irish now head into the weekend with a pair of games on the docket, starting with Minnesota on Friday night followed up by a 3 p.m. kickoff against Iowa on Sunday with both games being played in Iowa City. This leads into another set of games the following week as part of the Notre Dame Invitational, the opponents being South Carolina and Santa Clara for those contests. Throughout these games over the next couple of weeks, Notre Dame will seek to prove any doubters wrong who would see last year’s conference championship, the team’s first since moving to the ACC, as just a mere fluke. Critical to the success of the Irish will be the continued impact of some of the team’s playmakers from the first couple of games this year. Among those include sophomore forwards Natalie Jacobs and Jennifer Westendorf, each of whom found the back of the net in Sunday’s 4-0 win. The team has additionally seen some tremendous play out of some of the freshmen, perhaps most notably in the performances of midfielder Sammi Fisher and forward Eva Hurm. Also worth noting is the impressive start by Littman who has now recorded back-to-back shutouts to begin her career as a starter for the Irish.

Conference play in the ACC will not get underway for the Irish until Sept. 16th when the team travels to Riggs Field in South Carolina to take on Clemson. Until then, the team will look to develop its younger players and get a strong rapport going on a squad with high expectations for the 2017 season.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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