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ND Women’s Soccer

Notre Dame women’s soccer bounces back, beats Pitt 4-0

| Friday, September 27, 2019

Notre Dame took on Pittsburgh on Thursday night at Alumni Stadium. Notre Dame (7-3, 1-1 ACC) had been in a slump heading into the matchup, losing their last three games after starting the season 6-0, although two of those three were on the road against top-10 opponents No. 4 South Carolina and No. 10 Clemson. The Irish bounced back in a big way, beating Pitt (3-5-2, 0-1-1 ACC) by a score of 4-0. Head coach Nate Norman said his team was frustrated about how close they had come to winning those previous games.

“A lot of frustration built up over the last couple games, I think [it] was a good frustration because we felt like we did a lot of good things but still didn’t come out with a win, and we challenged them to not leave anything to chance [tonight],” he said. “We just have to bring the intensity level and focus, and we’ll give ourselves a good shot at the victory.” 

The game was a homecoming of sorts for Pittsburgh head coach Randy Waldrum, who led the Irish for 14 seasons from 1999-2013. He won two national championships with Notre Dame, and compiled a 0.819 win percentage. He was then named the head coach of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Houston Dash, where he coached for three seasons before returning to college soccer with Pittsburgh. 

The Irish had chances at the beginning of the match, earning two corner kicks within the first two minutes, both resulting in near-goals. Then, in the fourth minute, junior midfielder Sammi Fisher passed a ball through to junior forward Eva Hurm, who was taken down in the box by a Panthers defender, but no penalty was assessed. 

When the Irish earned yet another corner in the 10th minute, Hurm headed the ball to junior defender Jenna Winebrenner who was able to volley the ball into the net to give the Irish the early lead. They had another solid chance less than two minutes later, when Fisher tried to curl a shot into the net from 10 yards out, but the ball sailed just high. Then, in the 25th minute, sophomore midfielder Luisa Delgado dribbled by two Pitt defenders and fired a shot on goal, but was denied by Panthers redshirt junior goal-keeper Amaia Pena

While the offensive was chipping away at Pitt’s defense, the Panthers weren’t able to build up their own offensive pushes. Norman said the simplicity of the game plan was key to the defensive success.

“We really tried to press and [simplify] our press, which gave people specific roles and steps to make, to make [Pitt] uncomfortable, and credit to our team, they really rolled up their sleeves and worked that first 20 minutes to get a hold of the game,” he said. 

Pitt had their first opportunity in the 28th minute, when freshman defense Athalie Poloma curled a shot from the left of the goal box, but it was just wide. Still, the Panthers struggled to control the ball throughout the first half, with turnovers leading to many chances for Notre Dame. The Irish outshot the Panthers 12-1 in the first half.

The Irish doubled their lead in the 39th minute, when Kiki Van Zanten tapped in a goal from a free kick into the box from freshman midfielder Maddie Mercado. Pena came out to try to knock the ball out, but the ball ended up behind her for an easy goal for Van Zanten, her second of the season. Notre Dame almost scored again in the 43rd minute, when Autumn Smithers headed a ball off a corner kick that was off the woodwork, then the ball bounced out to Erin Hohnstein who shot it off the crossbar.

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish freshman forward Kiki Van Zanten dribbles the ball during Notre Dame’s 3-2 loss to Iowa on Sept. 15.

At the beginning of the second half, Notre Dame seemed content to sit back on defense and attempt to control the possession, but in the 54th minute, Delgado found space, and crossed it to Hurm who was able to tap it in from close range. The Irish scored another in the 61st minute when senior goalkeeper Brooke Littman passed the ball all the way down the field to Van Zanten who, with only the keeper to beat, put it in the back of the net for her second goal of the game. 

After the fourth goal, both teams subbed many of their starters out of the game. Possession went back and forth, but Notre Dame still prevented Pitts from getting any quality looks, coming out on top 4-0.

With Pittsburgh behind them, the Irish are preparing for yet another top-10 road game against No. 4 North Carolina on Sunday afternoon. Norman says that he relishes these opportunities.

“You just enjoy it and love it,” he said. “You embrace the challenge of it, and embrace the fun of playing in the ACC, and playing against all these different teams that bring all these different types of challenges.”

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