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ND Women’s Soccer

Bender: Notre Dame’s improved offense helps squad hone in on identity

| Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Coming into the 2017 season, there seemed to be reason for an optimistic outlook for Notre Dame.

This was a team that won the ACC regular season championship just a year ago, and many of the players instrumental in the success of 2016 were returning to the squad. A team that had prided itself on defense, the Irish (4-2-2) scored two or less goals in nine of their 13 regular season wins last year, proving themselves quite capable of keeping their opponent from reaching the back of the net. Unfortunately, the low scoring style is perhaps what led to the team’s downfall come NCAA tournament time as the Irish saw a quick exit, losing in the first round to SIU-Edwardsville in penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation and extra time.

Irish sophomore forward Jennifer Westendorf dribbles around a defender during Notre Dame's 1-0 double-overtime loss to South Carolina on Sept. 1 at Alumni Stadium.Peter St. John | The Observer

Irish sophomore forward Jennifer Westendorf dribbles around a defender during Notre Dame’s 1-0 double-overtime loss to South Carolina on Sept. 1 at Alumni Stadium.

Now shift to this season. The team is sitting at 4-2-2 as they enter ACC play, giving signs that this season could be just as successful as last year. However, if you’ve watched play thus far, one thing should be clear — this is not last year’s Irish squad. Head coach Theresa Romagnolo’s crew has turned into an offensive juggernaut on a number of occasions already this season, accounting for four goals against three teams already this season. Last year, it hit that total only once all season, and take into account that, as said before, ACC play has yet to start up. Romagnolo has mentioned that her team has put forth efforts to improve the offense in the 2017 season, often mentioning it as a core part of the team’s work this season.

“We need to work on connecting more of our passes so we can control the game,” Romagnolo said early in the season. “Beyond that we have to work on executing in front of the goal. While we showed some nice flashes, we need to be more consistent moving forward.”

The logical question that Notre Dame fans should be asking themselves then becomes what exactly it is that has led to this sudden success on offense. There’s no one answer, but a good place to start might be by looking at the team’s biggest offensive weapon over the past two seasons: sophomore forward Jennifer Westendorf. The leading goal scorer for the Irish a year ago, Westendorf has largely picked up where she left off, scoring four goals in the team’s first eight games this season — the second most on the team. Even when she is unable to find the back of the net, the sophomore striker has generated a high number of chances for the Notre Dame offense, making her a critical part of the success thus far.

While the team may feature many returning members, one of the other biggest offensive sparks on the team has actually come from Natalie Jacobs, a sophomore who hasn’t played for the Irish in two years as she had been training with the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team for the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. She had a strong freshman season in 2015, earning All-ACC Freshman Team honors, and her start to the 2017 year has been no different as she currently leads the team in goals.

The first few games have seen solid performances out of a number of other players such as Sandra Yu, Megan Doyle and Eva Hurm. Essentially, with a more focused emphasis on the offensive side of the game, in addition to the strong play of key forwards, there is something different about this year’s team. As we head into ACC play, it will be interesting to see if the offensive efforts can keep up.

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

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