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ND Women’s Soccer: Freshmen carry special bond to ND

Brian Hartnett | Monday, September 3, 2012

From their positions on opposite sides of the field to their differing styles of play, Notre Dame freshman defender Katie Naughton and freshman forward Crystal Thomas seem to have little in common beside their membership in this year’s top-rated freshman class.

Yet the duo possesses a unique bond extending much deeper than the occasional booming through pass from Naughton to Thomas.

The two Chicagoland-area natives have been playing on the same team since the U-15 level, as they spent the last three seasons as members of the Sockers FC Chicago club team.
In their time at Sockers FC, Naughton and Thomas helped lead their club to national recognition, as the team captured two Illinois state cup titles and reached the 2011 U-18 regionals. Thomas said she believes her big-game experience on the club level has served as strong preparation for the high-stakes contests making up most of Notre Dame’s schedule.

“A lot of [club soccer] was learning how to win big games and how to deal with adversity,” Thomas said. “Coming out of it as a champion was one of the best experiences I’ve had.”

Although Naughton and Thomas were ranked as two of the top club soccer recruits in the Midwest, they both admitted to not talking much about college choices with each other. It was not until the end of the long recruiting process that the teammates learned they would be playing college soccer together.

“We talked about [college] at first, but then the process became really intense, and we were trying to figure everything out,” Thomas said. “We were very excited when we finally found out we were both coming to Notre Dame.”

As the next chapter of the pair’s respective journeys begins in South Bend, Naughton said her sense of familiarity with Thomas has already benefited her transition to the college game.

“It’s nice to know there’s someone on the field you can trust,” Naughton said. “It’s certainly been an advantageous thing to have played with [Thomas] in the past.”

Thomas echoed her sentiments, adding that her playing experience with Naughton has made her communication with the backline much easier.

“I usually know what Katie’s going to do,” Thomas said. “From making eye contact and working together off that, I’m able to know where to run and where she’s going to play it. Katie always has the perfect through ball.”

Naughton’s great field vision, powerful leg and physical style of defense have helped her solidify a spot as one of the anchors on the young Irish defense. A starter in four games this season, Naughton earned national recognition when she was selected to the Top Drawer Soccer National Team of the Week in August for her performances in victories over Tulsa and East Carolina. Naughton said a major key to her early success has been the relationship and communication she’s developed with her fellow defenders over the span of just a few months.

“I think [the defense] built up a great chemistry in the preseason, so just being able to trust everyone on the field and especially the fellow defenders has really allowed us to do our best,” Naughton said. “Having that trust and faith in each other has really helped us out early.”

On the other side of the field, the speedy and agile Thomas has emerged as one of Notre Dame’s top scoring threats, as she’s tied for the team lead with two goals. After notching her first college score in Notre Dame’s 5-0 victory over East Carolina, Thomas served as a prime catalyst in the team’s upset over Santa Clara, rifling a penalty kick into the corner of the net to score Notre Dame’s first goal.

Citing her “technical ability and fight on the ball” as her biggest assets to the offense, Thomas said her early goals have given her confidence in her ability to put many points on the board for the Irish.

“It’s been very exciting to score in my first few games,” Thomas said. “It’s great to know that I can accomplish my goals and help the team accomplish our overall goals.”

With Naughton and Thomas already pushing the Irish toward their goals in their first few weeks on campus, it seems this unlikely duo will be seeing the field together for a few more years, collaborating on a goal much greater than the simple pass binding them on the field.