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ND Women’s Soccer

Notre Dame women’s soccer prepares for ACC opener against Syracuse

| Friday, September 17, 2021

This Saturday, conference slates around the country will kick off, and Notre Dame women’s soccer will be one of dozens of teams looking to kick off a NCAA tournament qualification campaign on the right foot.

Welcoming Syracuse to South Bend on the back of an extended weeklong break following last Sunday’s win over Brown, the Irish will enter their ACC schedule with a solid idea of what the squad looks like and what it’s capable of (good news: it’s a lot), but also with a few season-defining questions still to answer.

The biggest uncertainty remains in goal. While head coach Nate Norman hasn’t explicitly named a new starting goalkeeper following a likely season-ending injury to incumbent keeper Mattie Interian, the indication seems clear that it’s Ashley Naylor’s job going forward. The sophomore from Manhattan Beach, California earned the start between the pipes for Notre Dame’s final out-of-conference match last week, an important vote of confidence from Norman in a game that saw the Irish square off with a fellow top-25 team and national tournament hopeful.

And for the most part, Naylor looked strong. She was confident in one-on-one situations where many young goalies falter and back down, and her shot-stopping prowess saved Notre Dame from conceding an equalizer late in the game against the Bears. But Naylor’s inexperience also showed on Brown’s lone goal of the match, when she attempted to come off her line and claim a 50/50 ball. She was beaten to the punch by senior midfielder Evelyn Calhoon, who powered a header into the vacated Irish net.

Such a mistake likely remains insignificant in the general scheme of the position battle given Naylor’s play otherwise, but it does keep the door open for her fellow sophomore goalie Kaylin Slattery, who was actually given the nod when Interian originally subbed off against Marquette, as well as in the next two games against Purdue and Missouri. But after a 3-2 loss to Missouri, Notre Dame’s first defeat of the season, Norman seemed to make a switch in depth chart order and it was Naylor who got her first start the next game against Detroit. 

Whether the change in goalkeeper was a reaction to the Missouri defeat or an intentional move to give both sophomore goalies two games to prove themselves, whichever sophomore is in net on Sunday against Syracuse will have to find their form at the collegiate level quickly. While the Orange shouldn’t offer an offensive threat unlike any Notre Dame hasn’t already seen, tests against a high-scoring Boston College team and a murderous three-game October stretch against No. 7 Virginia, No. 4 Duke and No. 2 North Carolina loom large on the Irish schedule. 

Outside of the goalie spot, the rest of the Notre Dame lineup seems to pick itself. Norman’s preferred back three of Eva Wirtz, Waniya Hudson and Eva Gaetino have been excellent to start the season, and the wingback pairing of Brianna Martinez and Kati Druzina has supplemented both the defense and attack with aplomb. Though the timetable on small injuries to Wirtz and Martinez picked up in the Brown match is unknown, freshmen Katie Coyle and Kaylie Ronan both looked ready replacements against the Bears should they be called upon for Saturday’s match.

In midfield, Korbin Albert and Camryn Dyke have made themselves irreplaceable, and Maddie Mercado and Brooke VanDyck have both impressed when given chances to win the third starting spot in the center of the park for the Irish. Whichever trio Norman opts to start on Sunday, the striker duo they’ll be providing for is all but written in Sharpie on the lineup card. Graduate student Sammi Fisher leads the team in goals with six, including three game winners, and Olivia Wingate offers a quick presence next to her, so far having added a pair of goals and three assists to her account this season.

Catch the Irish (now No. 24 in the Top Drawer Soccer top 25) taking on Syracuse on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET at Alumni Stadium. The game will also be broadcasted on the ACC Network.

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