ND Women’s Soccer
Season Recap: Irish return top talent after up-and-down season
Brian Hartnett | Friday, May 16, 2014
It was a year of transitions for Notre Dame.
On the field, the Irish (13-8-1, 7-5-1 ACC) faced many ups and downs in their inaugural season in a conference that sent eight of its 14 teams to the NCAA tournament, concluding their season with a loss in the third round of the tournament.
Off the field, Notre Dame faced its first coaching change in 15 years, as former coach Randy Waldrum resigned in January to helm the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). The Irish named his replacement on March 19, as former Dartmouth coach Theresa Romagnolo was selected to be the fourth coach in the history of the Notre Dame program.
“[Notre Dame] is an incredible program with a lot of tradition that has attracted a lot of talent,” Romagnolo said. “I think there’s really exciting players to work with on this team, and there’s a great buy-in in terms of everyone coming here because they want to be the best in the country.”Romagnolo will inherit a team that is projected to return seven starters and 22 players from a squad that got off to a 9-1 start last season.
Notre Dame only fell to eventual-national champion UCLA in its nonconference schedule. The Irish won their first five ACC games, which included a 1-0 victory over then-No. 1 North Carolina on Sept. 15.
“I would say one of their strengths is that they had a very strong defensive unit, especially their back four and goalkeeper,” Romagnolo said of last year’s Irish squad. “I think, being the first year that the team was in the ACC, there was obviously some adjustment to that … I think they did solid, and it gave them some perspective on what it’s going to take to win the ACC next year.”
After a strong start, Notre Dame faced some growing pains in its new conference, losing five of its final eight conference games, three of them in double overtime. The team’s struggles in extra time carried over to the ACC championship, where it fell to Virginia Tech, 2-1, in double overtime.
Romagnolo said a change in mentality is necessary to ensure that the Irish find success in overtime in the future.
“It’s just making sure that we’re staying focused in critical parts of the game, that we’re taking risks when we need to take risks, so having an understanding of the game management side a little bit and then bringing a mentality of, ‘We’re going to find a way to get it done,’” she said. “Being fit [is also important], because a lot of times when you go into extra time, that team that’s more fit is mentally and physically stronger.”
Despite its late season slide, Notre Dame earned a bid to the NCAA championship and won its first two matches, beating Iowa, 4-1, in the first round and Western Michigan, 1-0, in the second round. The team’s season came to an end with a 1-0 loss to Michigan in the tournament’s third round.
Despite losing all-ACC third team selection Mandy Laddish and tri-captain Elizabeth Tucker to graduation, Notre Dame will return two of its top contributors from last season: ACC Freshman of the Year midfielder Morgan Andrews and all-ACC first team selection sophomore forward Cari Roccaro. Andrews tied for first on the team with seven goals, while Roccaro added five goals on the season.
“It’s exciting [to have Andrews and Roccaro], as they’re very talented, and I’m excited to see them step into leadership roles as they get older,” Romagnolo said.
The Irish also return sophomore defender Katie Naughton, who served as one of the team’s tri-captains last season.
“Katie’s definitely a natural leader, and she demonstrates the work ethic, motivation and a very positive attitude when she’s on the field,” Romagnolo said. “She’s definitely going to be someone who remains a strong presence and leader within our program.”
The Irish won four of their six matches in the spring season, earning victories over the Haitian national team and Mexican under-20 national team. Romagnolo said she has seen her team make great strides since she was hired in mid-March.
“I think from where we started, to where we finished, we started to get a good idea of what we were trying to accomplish on the field,” she said. “I really love the attacking mentality we’re starting to have on the field. I feel like we’re recognizing times to play simple, times when we need to be more creative … I feel like we’ve really started to come together and play the type of system that I want us to be playing.”
Romagnolo admitted that following Waldrum, who won two national championships and led Notre Dame to eight NCAA Women’s College Cup appearances, would be a difficult task, but she said the expectations for the program remain the same.
“I think the expectation for the program is always to compete for the national championship, so that’s not going to change,” she said. “We’re going to try to find the best players out there and produce national championship-caliber teams.”