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ND Women’s Soccer

Irish ride strong defense and explosive offense on Sweet 16 run

| Friday, May 18, 2018

Coming off of the program’s first ever ACC title but a first round NCAA exit, the Irish marked 2017 with electrifying scoring, stingy defense and a run to the third round of the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame (5-3-2) battled injuries all season and finished fifth in arguably the country’s toughest conference, before embarking on the team’s first Sweet 16 run since 2014, which ended with a 3-2 overtime loss to Baylor.

Irish head coach Nate Norman was impressed with the team’s play all year.

“It was a really good season. We had a lot of injuries throughout the season. The team overcame a lot of adversity. We played one of the most difficult schedules in the country so every game was a battle,” Coach Norman said. “Watching the team grow over the course of the season and come together was rewarding for our coaching staff. We’re very proud of how they performed.”

Zach Yim | The Observer

Junior defender Rachel Heard looks to pass the ball during Notre Dame’s 3-0 loss to Duke on Sep. 21 at Alumni Stadium.

The team’s offense was spearheaded by senior midfielder Sandra Yu, sophomore forward Natalie Jacobs and sophomore forward Jennifer Westendorf. The trio combined for 31 of the team’s 46 goals, and was a constant threat to other teams.

Coach Norman was impressed with the trio’s contributions.

“Sandra is an extremely explosive player. She has wonderful speed, quickness and athleticism. She can take you on one versus one, she’s an excellent defensive player and works very hard to put pressure on,” Coach Norman said. “Jen is a great finisher. She can strike the ball unbelievably well with her left foot. Anytime she gets the ball on the top of the box she’s very dangerous. Natalie just knows where balls are going to land and can find spaces in the box. She can strike the ball very well too, she does a great job scoring from any spot on the field.”

Midway through the season, senior goalkeeper Lexi Nicholas won the starting job and did not look back. She had a clean sheet in her first start against NC State, and registered two more by season’s end.

Coach Norman lauded Nicholas’ presence in goal.

“Lexi has a calming presence. She has experience and is very solid technically. She’s a great athlete and makes big saves,” said Coach Norman. She gives confidence to the team, she’s been through a lot and seen a lot. She’s definitely a calming presence back there.”

Midfielder Sandra Yu, goalkeeper Lexi Nicholas, defender Ginny McGowan, and several others are set to graduate and leave the Irish this season. Yu’s stellar year gave her an opportunity to join the professional ranks next season, and she was drafted with the eighth overall pick by Portland Thorns FC in the 2018 National Women’s Soccer League draft. Jacobs will also not return to the team, as a university spokesperson confirmed that the sophomore has transferred to USC to see out the remainder of her career.

Despite losing some key players from last year’s team, Coach Norman believes the future is bright for the Irish.

“We have a lot of great returning players and some injured players who didn’t play all of last season that will be coming back. We also have a top-five recruiting class coming in. There’s a lot to be excited about,” Coach Norman said. “We’re losing a large senior class, but with the players we have coming in and also returning from injury there’s a lot of great pieces coming back. We hold ourselves to the highest standard. We have high expectations every single year and this year will be no different.”

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