With a 4-0 win to make themselves 4-0 on the season, Notre Dame women’s soccer took down Illinois at Alumni Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Head coach Nate Norman summed up the win in three words.
“It was good,” Norman said. “I mean overall it was good. You know they’re a good team and I thought we handled the game very, very well.”
The Irish talent spans across the ages as all four undergraduate classes snagged a goal. Sophomore defender Katie Coyle opened the scoring in minute 33 with a one-touch goal off the assist from graduate student forward Olivia Wingate, who blew past the Illini through the left side of the box.
Coyle, a defender, said she made the run to split the team — “Even if it’s just pulling a defender out or hitting a ball across” — more than anything else. She said she was not expecting to score.
“I’m excited,” Coyle said. “I didn’t know it was going in, but I’m happy it did.”
Then, in the 45th with 12 seconds left in the first half, the Irish found the back of the net again, this time off the foot of junior forward Ellie Ospeck who stepped, for the first time this season, into the wing position. She sent the ball in with ease after junior forward Paige Peltier forced a diving save from the Illinois keeper. Ospeck’s tuck-in put the Irish up two at the half.
Seasoned vet Maddie Mercado made sure Irish fans didn’t have to wait long for a third goal. The senior midfielder found the loose ball after a header attempt from senior forward Kiki Van Zanten was blocked, burying it in the top corner. To round out the undergraduate representation, freshman defender Leah Klenke stepped up. Klenke took on a defender one-on-one and beat her, sending the ball sailing over the keeper and curling it into the top right corner.
In terms of what could have gone better, Norman had a short list, but nothing could shake his ultimate takeaway around the win.
“I wish we could be a little more efficient sometimes with our finishing,” he said. “And I just wish we could keep the tempo consistently high. But I’m getting nitpicky with things — which is good, you know, you want to [nitpick] as a coach because overall they’re doing a great job and I’m just really proud of them.”
Behind 11 goals, the Irish have claimed shutouts in each of their victories. They’ve seen four shots on goal this season and the Fighting Illini only got off eight shots on the day. This, however, has left Norman with minimal evidence to answer a lingering question: Who will be the starting keeper? Between juniors Ashley Naylor and Kaylin Slattery and graduate student Mackenzie Wood, all of whom have seen the pitch for the Irish this season, Norman and the rest of the coaching staff have a decision to make.
“It’s a good problem to have, but eventually you want to go with a goalkeeper,” Norman said. “We’ll sit down and talk about it this week, but I think the reality is that they haven’t seen a lot of action so we haven’t probably had a lot of evidence to know one way or another.”
Regardless of who’s in the net, the Irish return to the pitch in Alumni Stadium for a midweek matchup against the Wisconsin Badgers. The match kicks off at 7 p.m. EST and will be broadcasted on the ACC Network.