ND Women’s Soccer
Irish to take on top-seeded Florida State in ACC Quarterfinals
Greg McKenna | Monday, November 9, 2020
The No. 14 Notre Dame women’s soccer team is set for a rematch versus No. 2 Florida State Tuesday in the opening match of the ACC Tournament at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.
Though North Carolina came in at No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches’ national poll after defeating the Irish 2-0 in Chapel Hill last Sunday to match Florida State’s undefeated regular season, the Seminoles (8-0-0, 8-0-0 ACC) finished first in the ACC after besting the Tar Heels in goal difference in conference play +21 to +16.
Despite the loss in their regular season finale at UNC, Notre Dame (4-4-0, 4-4-0 ACC) managed to grab the eighth and final qualifying spot in the conference tournament.
Tuesday’s clash continues a key stretch for Irish athletics punctuated by Notre Dame Football’s historic win over No. 1 Clemson Saturday night. However, the postgame field rush by Notre Dame students drew substantial national criticism as the Indiana State Department of Health reported a record-high 5,007 new coronavirus cases Saturday.
When head coach Nate Norman was asked whether he was nervous about the health of his team while watching the scene, he said, “Yeah, I was.”
However, Norman said he trusted his players to make good decisions to stay safe and avoid jeopardizing the opportunity the Irish have worked so hard for during this unusual season.
“I don’t think I had in my mind that there could be a field rushing, but I would think that all of our players would not be involved in that I hope,” he said. “We have too many things going on that to just kind of lose sight in one moment to sacrifice that would be not a good idea.”
Against women’s college soccer’s preeminent blue-blood in UNC, the Irish occasionally applied their high-press with success and created some early chances. However, a Tar Heels’ goal midway through the first-half following a poor Notre Dame giveaway in midfield and a set-piece goal after halftime prevented any potential upset bid for the Irish.
Norman said his team was frustrated not to get a result but saw a lot of positives in the tape that they will look to carry over to Tuesday’s clash.
“I think there’s a lot of things we did well in that game that we can use as … confidence [builders] going into the Florida State game, because I think we did do a lot of good things,” he said. “We just needed to be sharper in some areas. And if we were, I think that game could have been very different.”
Junior goalkeeper Mattie Interian should be especially confident following her performance against the Tar Heels. The Pasadena, Calif., native made a career-high seven saves against UNC after being named ACC Defensive Player of the Week for protecting a clean sheet in Notre Dame’s penultimate game of the regular season at Louisville the Sunday prior.
Norman admitted that having a keeper who can be relied upon to make big saves like Interian is vital versus top opposition.
“It’s just the reality sometimes of those situations [that] you need your keeper basically to steal a goal or two in those games to help you out,” he said. “I think she’s in a good place, and I think she’s obviously got the talent to do that for us.”
Interian and co. will be looking to avenge Notre Dame’s 5-0 season-opening loss to Florida State in Tallahassee. The Seminoles scored four goals off the bench, including two long-range efforts from junior midfielder Yujie Zhao. Norman lauded the Seminoles’ prowess and depth in the midfield and explained how the Irish plan on playing more on the wings this time around.
“[Florida State] have a lot of really special 10s or attacking center-mids that sit in these little spaces in front of back lines that can do some really good stuff,” he said. “Trying to protect those areas and actually keeping the ball in wide areas, I think [that’s] gonna be important and crucial for us. That’s gonna be a lot of game plan of not letting them switch the field. Once they get to the side, can we squeeze them to that side and just keep them there and try to make them as predictable as possible for us.”
However, slowing down the Seminoles is not something opposing teams have accomplished this season. Florida State has outscored their opponents 25-4 with goals from nine different players, and several members of the squad have earned national and ACC recognition.
Junior midfielder Jaelin Howell was named Top Drawer Soccer’s player of the week after scoring a game-winner with 12 seconds left in regulation vs. then-No. 5 Duke in her first game back from a USWNT camp invite. Freshman forward Jody Brown is the Seminoles’ joint-leader in goals following a brace vs. then-No. 3 Clemson in the regular season finale to bring the St. Ann, Jamaica, native’s tally to four. At the other end of the field, freshman goalkeeper Cristina Roque was named ACC Defensive Player of the Week for keeping clean sheets in both contests.
Despite the Seminoles’ obvious pedigree, Norman maintained that his team would not just sit back and invite pressure, though he did admit his team will inevitably have less of the ball Tuesday than the Irish are used to.
“We need to make [Florida State] uncomfortable and press them, and then there’s going to be times where they’re just going to have the ball, and we need to be patient defending,” he said.
Notre Dame boasts some attacking talent of its own, but the Irish have sometimes struggled in front of goal this year, only outscoring opponents 12-10 in eight games.
Norman said he is pleased that creating chances has not been a problem for Notre Dame but also said that the Irish can be sharper in the final third.
“We get into dangerous areas on a very consistent basis, probably the most [often since] I’ve been here, and for whatever reason, that final pass, final shot just hasn’t quite come as often as I think we would like it to come,” he said. “I think it’s something that we continue to work on and talk about, and I think a lot of our attacking players have done a lot of work outside of our actual regular scheduled practice to do that stuff and just try to become more comfortable.”
Other than sophomore forward Kiki Van Zanten, who is often used as a substitute but is joint-top of the ACC with six goals in conference play, only senior attacking midfielder Sammi Fisher has managed to score more than once in 2020. Junior midfielder Luisa Delgado and senior forward Eva Hurm, who scored a combined 11 goals in 21 games last season, are yet to find the back of the net this year.
Norman pointed to a condensed season to help explain some of these trends and expressed confidence that his team would create opportunities on Tuesday.
“We may not be creating 20 chances against Florida State, but we’re going to get some,” he said. “We have to be calm and composed in those situations, whether it’s just passing the ball [into] the corner of the net or making a good decision on a final pass.”
Kickoff Tuesday is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. No public attendance will be permitted, but the match will be broadcast on the ACC Network.