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ND Women’s Soccer

‘I wanted to make the most of it’: Sammi Fisher dominates fifth-year season, joins Redstars

| Friday, May 13, 2022

Before receiving a fifth year of eligibility due to COVID-19, Sammi Fisher already held a decorated collegiate career. She played every match in her junior and senior seasons as a captain and led the team in several stats. In her graduate year though, the midfielder shifted into another gear to be named the Observer’s Women’s Athlete of the Year.

Soccer was a part of Fisher’s life even before she knew she wanted to play.

“I had two older sisters who played soccer. And growing up I was always at their games. And they really inspired me to get into it as well,” Fisher said. “My parents were the ones who really drove me to every training and pushed me to do extra training and everything like that. So all the credit goes to them.”

Their support pushed her to excel but soccer seemed to come naturally for Fisher. 

Joining the Irish squad

“At the beginning, Sammi was someone who certainly was very talented, had a good personality. But I don’t know if she quite knew how to use all that talent and leadership,” head coach Nate Norman said. “As she grew and got older she learned a lot and figured a lot of things out.”

Fisher said her ability to learn quickly and the mindset she adopted helped her establish a place on the roster.

“Going into my freshman year I had no expectations.” Fisher said, “I knew it was definitely going to be a jump… and it was. So I think going into it with no expectations of playing time or anything like that really helped me develop quickly. I always was told to just ‘work as hard as you can.’ And I went into it doing that.”

The summer bridge program made Fisher that much more comfortable in practice since she had already met teammates. That comfort translated into her playing and, despite her expectations, Fisher hit the pitch running. 

In her first year, she saw the field in 20 games, starting 15 of them. Fisher earned seven points through three goals and one assist on the season and played over 1,000 minutes. With the exception of the 2020 season (limited by COVID-19), Fisher never saw less than 1,000 minutes in her collegiate career. Even in 2020, she saw 813. She wasn’t content with this, though.

“I wanted to be the best for them. That way we can all be better,” Fisher said.

Becoming the best

Over her sophomore season, Fisher scored four goals and two assists in 1,145 minutes, starting all but one game. Junior year though, she began to take over.

“Between holding high standards within the team and holding players accountable, she’s someone who’s not afraid to have tough conversations with her teammates and push or inspire them. She’s certainly someone who during her time here pushed this program forward.” Norman said about Fisher. 

In her third season, Fisher upped her stats to six goals and five assists, jumping her point total to 17 (equivalent to the previous two seasons combined). She started in every game she played, logging 1,593 minutes and a .556 shots on goal percentage.

“There were definitely times throughout my Notre Dame career that weren’t always easy,” Fisher said. “But just staying persistent throughout those times, is always a light at the end of the tunnel in those moments. And staying true to that was one of the most important things.” 

Fighting through a tough senior season

Fisher said the onset of COVID was one of those difficult moments.

“We were making really big strides as a team. We had one spring game that we won by a couple of goals and we felt really good about that,” Fisher said. “The next week, we found out that school was not coming back. So that was really tough to know that the progress we had made during that time was just coming to a halt.”

She said that when the team could play in the fall of 2020, no one took it for granted, and they played every game like it was their last.

“Being one of the only conferences to come back and play during the fall meant everything,” Fisher said. “It had been so much longer since the team had been together. There was a little bit of uncertainty about where it would be at. But looking back, I mean, we took it all and did the best that we could.”

In Notre Dame’s 11 conference-only games that season, Fisher matched her freshman season stats with three goals and one assist, again proving her ability despite the interrupted and limited play. But the tone changed when Fisher found out she had the extra year of eligibility.

“I didn’t know I was going to be having a fifth-year obviously [so] I just really wanted to make the most of it in any way I could,” Fisher said. “And then personally, I knew this was… my last season and I wanted to play professionally so I knew I had to have a good season. So I put in as much work as I could to do that.”

With a slew of freshmen coming in, the Irish were excited to have a somewhat normal year. But so many new players coming in had an unexpected effect on Fisher’s field presence.

Switching it up

Through her four undergraduate years, Fisher took the field as a midfielder. However, the makeup of the team in her fifth year took the Irish out of their 4-3-3 system and into a 3-5-2. This left Fisher at center forward.

“That was a big change,” Fisher said. “I hadn’t played forward in a really long time. And I went into this season and coach…thought I’d be really good in front of goal and I hadn’t been in front of goal as much coming from a midfielder position. So it was fun to be able to be in those spots. My teammates took care of the rest and gave me the ball but it was really cool to be able to play a new position in my last year and have fun with it.” 

Norman trusted the shift because of how long he had seen her play. He said Fisher has a natural awareness for the best play. She knows where her teammates are, what her angle looks like and who has a better one.

“It was a position where her best attributes could really come out and she could really flourish,” Norman said.

‘Thankfully, it paid off’

At center forward, Fisher smashed her previous-season successes. In 1,424 minutes, she had 24 shots on goal, earning 32 points with six assists. She also took on a leadership role after two years of captainship despite the Irish not naming captains this year. Her 13 goals ranked 18th nationally while her 32 points ranked second in the ACC and 25th nationally. Norman cited one moment where the Irish needed a win against Brown that embodied Fisher’s field awareness.

“We were actually down 1-0 in the second half. A cross came in and she got to the near post. A lot of people would’ve just tried to finish it. It was a tough angle for her but she knew there was a teammate coming in behind her. She just kind of let it run through her legs and created a much better chance for a teammate who was able to finish it,” Norman said.

She went 3 for 4 on penalty kick attempts on the season. Leading the Irish in those close wins was always sweeter Fisher said. She cited their regular-season overtime defeat of Clemson and their 4-3 shootout win over Purdue which sent the Irish to the Sweet 16 this year. Making it that far in her last year made all the work worth it, Fisher added.

‘A surreal feeling’

Fisher saw her collegiate career culminate in another goal. On Dec. 18, 2021, the Chicago Redstars drafted Fisher 19th overall.

“It was such a surreal feeling. I remember just sitting on the couch with my family. I didn’t really know where I was gonna end up or when I would get drafted,” Fisher said. “But once I [did], it was such a sigh of relief almost. For all of the work throughout not just college, but looking back on my whole youth career. It was like everything had come together in that moment.”

Back at midfield for the Redstars, Fisher said she’s excited to be representing Chicago. She’ll translate her final season and all it did for her experience and skill to the professional level.

“Whether [I’m] by myself or setting up teammates… it comes in handy when you’re comfortable around goal so I’m trying to mimic that as much as possible,” Fisher said.

Although Fisher is leaving the Irish, she leaves her own legacy.

“Watching her really grow into a strong woman and hearing what she has to say, hearing her opinions and learning from her and her inner wisdom, it was really helpful for our program and [for] me as a coach,” Norman said. “[We’re] certainly much stronger than when she first came in.”

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About Mannion McGinley

Mannion McGinley is an American Studies and Sociology major with a Journalism minor in Notre Dame's class of 2023. She is a member of the Glynn Family Honors program and currently serves as an Assistant Managing Editor at The Observer.

Contact Mannion