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ND Women’s Soccer

Padanilam: Irish attack needs to return to form

| Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Despite what its 8-2-1 record may suggest, there exists a level of concern for No. 14 Notre Dame as it slides into the thick of its conference schedule. In conference play and against stronger competition, the Irish have struggled to maintain the offensive effectiveness that they displayed during their nonconference slate, and it is something the team must rediscover if it hopes to reach its championship aspirations.

Following their first three ACC games, the Irish hold a rather pedestrian 1-2 record in the conference. Granted, they have battled the likes of No. 2 Florida State, No. 3 Virginia, and No. 7 Clemson, but the fact of the matter is that the ACC is arguably the strongest conference in all of women’s college soccer, and the Irish have struggled to make their mark against the types of teams that stand between them and a national championship.

Much of Notre Dame’s struggles are related to a decline in the team’s offensive output in these games. Prior to conference play, the Irish had averaged 2.63 goals on 21.38 shots per game. However, in these three ACC games, they have been held to a mere two goals on an average of 11 shots per game; it is reminiscent of the 1.64 goal-per-game effort put forward by last year’s squad, which fell short of its championship aspirations.

While it is easy to point to the increased strength of their competition as the cause of this decline, there are issues that go beyond that. In two games, the Irish were blanked by the opposing defenses. Senior forward Anna Maria Gilbertson, who scored both goals for the Irish in their lone conference win over Virginia, has accounted for all of the offensive production for the team during this stretch, creating concerns about the balance of the Notre Dame attack. Furthermore, Irish head coach Theresa Romagnolo has expressed concerns with the team’s mindset, composure, and most recently, effort on the offensive end during this stretch.

Despite these struggles, however, the outlook for the Irish is far from bleak.  The defensive unit has been strong, as the Irish have only conceded six goals this season and just three in conference play against some of the ACC’s best offenses. This unit is led by talent as well as experience, as senior captains Cari Roccaro and Katie Naughton were all-ACC first and second team last season while senior Brittany Von Rueden has also been a major contributor.

There is still hope for the Irish to rediscover their early-season effectiveness as well. Behind Gilbertson, many of the other offensive weapons are inexperienced and still adjusting to the rigor of the game-by-game challenge that life on an ACC team provides. Freshman forward Natalie Jacobs, junior forward Kaleigh Olmsted and junior midfielder Sandra Yu — the next three leaders in shots and goals following Gilbertson — have combined for just three shots over the last two games, but their struggles should slowly fade, especially as Jacobs and Yu gain experience and provide greater balance for the offense.

The good news for the Irish is that the upcoming stretch of ACC play features the lower half of the conference, as Syracuse, Miami, and Wake Forest are a combined 1-8 against conference opponents.  These games provide both an opportunity for the Irish offense to break out of its slump as well as the challenge to work out the kinks before they finish their season with another stretch against ranked ACC opponents.

One thing is for sure: if Notre Dame is to elevate itself into the ACC and national elite by the end of this season, it’s now or never for the Irish attack.

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

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

Contact Benjamin