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ND Women’s Soccer

Bender: Irish must set tone for rest of season after first loss

| Tuesday, August 28, 2018

For Notre Dame women’s soccer, the early portion of the season has largely been a success.

The Irish were able to secure wins in each of their first three games, scoring six goals in the process while holding their opponents to only two. Their shot advantage has been even stronger, as the forwards have already begun to develop strong chemistry when it comes to creating scoring opportunities.

Zachary Yim | The Observer
Irish junior forward Jennifer Westendorf pushes the ball upfield during Notre Dame’s 3-0 loss to Duke
on Sept. 21 at Alumni Stadium. Westendorf has recorded one goal and two assists so far this season.

In their last matchup, however, the Irish finally faltered. In an in-state showdown this past Sunday afternoon at Butler, Notre Dame was handed a 4-1 loss. Things got off to a rocky start for the Irish (3-1) when the Bulldogs (3-0) knocked one home from inside the box on their first possession of the game, and ultimately Nate Norman’s squad was unable to recover the rest of the match. Butler added two more goals in a short span during the second half to take a nearly insurmountable 3-0 lead. A bright spot did come for the Irish when a few minutes later freshman striker Brooke VanDyck got a cross to junior forward Jennifer Westendorf at the top of the box. Westendorf showed tremendous control in getting the ball over to freshman forward Olivia Wingate, who made a move to free herself up before firing her first career goal into the back left corner. Butler went on to put up another on the board in the final minutes to secure the 4-1 win, and just like that the Irish were heading home with their loss on the season.

Notre Dame has traditionally had strong teams in nearly every sport played at the Division I level, and women’s soccer is no different. Under former head coach Theresa Romganolo, the team went 51-21-13 the past four seasons. This year, they start a new regime under Norman, and while things have been largely encouraging early on, the team now faces its first real test as they look to bounce back from a loss. With an upcoming game this Thursday against Cincinnati at Alumni Stadium, the Irish will have had a few days to process this loss and think about what went wrong. Both the coaches and players have had practice to work on improving the quality of play — something they have surely done in every practice this year, but it comes with a different feeling following a loss.

Now, one early season loss that in hindsight might mean very little by season’s end shouldn’t necessarily spell a rough stretch ahead, but for now, it stands as the lone blemish on the Irish record, and for that reason it deserves attention. Notre Dame will need to make the necessary corrections in the next game, while also ensuring that it does not overthink those mistakes and learn to move past them. All of this can certainly present a challenge for a team under a first year head coach, as it marks a moment that may be more critical for Notre Dame than most might realize. It offers the Irish an opportunity to show how they face adversity in the Nate Norman era, and it sets a tone for the rest of the season as they prepare for more nationally ranked opponents and a difficult ACC schedule ahead. This is a team with experienced leaders who have battled back from losses before, just as surely as coach Norman has. Now comes the chance for them to do it for the first time as a group.

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

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