ND Women’s Soccer
Notre Dame to start ACC play against No. 11 Tigers
Renee Griffin | Thursday, September 17, 2015
No. 10 Notre Dame escaped nonconference play relatively unscathed, but its biggest challenge of 2015 so far awaits when it visits No. 11 Clemson at Riggs Field on Saturday.
The road matchup against the Tigers (6-0-1) kicks off the ACC schedule for the Irish (7-0-1) and is followed by games against No. 1 Virginia and No. 2 Florida State next week.
Notre Dame passed its most recent tests with ease, shutting out Big Ten-contenders Indiana and Michigan over the weekend as it geared up for the Tigers, its first ranked opponent of the year.
Irish head coach Theresa Romagnolo acknowledged the challenge of playing in the ACC but said the Clemson game doesn’t carry any extra pressure.
“If you look at the top 25, there are seven teams from the ACC. It’s the toughest conference in the country,” Romagnolo said. “You’re talking about having to face top teams almost every weekend, so that’s not easy.
“We want to win every game, so I don’t put weight on [Saturday’s match] just because it’s the first ACC game.”
Clemson’s most remarkable win yet this season was a 2-1 takedown of No. 16 South Carolina, which was ranked No. 8 at the time.
Both defenses have been stingy this year, with Notre Dame allowing three goals through eight games while the Tigers have been scored on four times in seven games.
Romagnolo said she expected the Irish attack to measure up against the Tigers’ defenders.
“We possess pretty well, so what I hope to see is that we’re able to salvage our possession game and create opportunities in the box,” Romagnolo said. “We need to be able to match their physical presence and have composure when we have the ball but still have that defensive toughness.”
Notre Dame’s ability to score was a question entering the season, as neither of 2014’s top goal-scorers are on the roster now. However, Romagnolo said she’s been impressed with players stepping up to fill those roles and meshing as a group.
“At the beginning of the year, you’re always watching for new leaders to emerge, and we’ve had that happen so far this year,” she said. “We’ve also started to play together as a team and limit the shots opponents are able to take.
“It’s early, only eight games in, so we have to continue to build, but I’m happy with it so far.”
Among those new leaders is freshman forward Natalie Jacobs, who wasted little time acclimating to the college game. Her four goals are second-most on the team behind only senior forward Anna Maria Gilbertson. She’s also just a couple of goals ahead of junior midfielder Sandra Yu, who is playing in her first games since an ACL injury in 2013.
The defense, meanwhile, has been led by acclaimed seniors Katie Naughton and Cari Roccaro. Naughton’s performances against Indiana and Michigan earned her ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors last week as the Irish earned clean sheets in both games.
The Irish will have to rely on all of those players on Saturday and beyond as the elite programs of the NCAA loom on the Irish schedule.
Notre Dame begins its ACC journey at 7 p.m. Saturday at Riggs Field in Clemson, South Carolina.