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Irish women’s soccer looks to build on perfect start, heads into ACC play

After finishing off a perfect non-conference schedule this weekend, the Notre Dame women’s soccer team will look to build on their momentum as they travel to Clemson Thursday night. 

“We have high hopes for this season, we have a really talented team,” head coach Nate Norman said after Sunday’s 3-1 victory over Ohio. “We’re clicking, we can do some major damage.”

The Irish (7-0-0), winners of their first seven games of the year, moved up to sixth in this week’s United Soccer Coaches Poll. The Irish are now one of just four undefeated teams, alongside Harvard, Rutgers and UCLA.

The matchup with the Tigers (4-1-2), ranked No. 24, will be the first ACC contest of the year for both sides. Notre Dame will be seeking revenge after the Tigers knocked them out of the ACC tournament quarterfinals last year in a nail biting 3-2 defeat. 

Notre Dame has been dominant through their first seven games — their first perfect non-conference slate in nearly 15 years. The last time this occurred in 2008, the team went 27-1 and advanced to the national championship game. The Irish have been outstanding on both sides of the pitch this year, notching 175 shots against just 31 from their opponents. 

“I’m really proud of us, we’re doing something that’s very special that we set a goal for ourselves and we were able to accomplish,” said junior center back Eva Gaetino. “We have to stay humble, we have to have humility and we have to understand that these games are going to be hard, but I also think that these wins have given us momentum going into these tougher games.”

Offensively, graduate student Olivia Wingate will continue to be crucial to the team’s success — she has already notched six goals on the year, one away from her career high. Senior midfielder Maddie Mercado has also performed extremely well, scoring five goals thus far. 

The Irish have had nine different players score a goal, and depth could prove important in what will be a grueling ACC schedule. “We have a really deep team,” Norman said. “It’s hard, there’s only so many minutes in games, so we’re trying to allow players, even some of our younger players, to develop and get time.” 

On the defensive side of the pitch, Gaetino has been a standout performer. She was recently named to the Mac Hermann Trophy watch list, which honors the top mens’ and womens’ college soccer players. 

“It’s details, details, details,” Gaetino said as to what sets the Irish defense apart. “Never turning off, always staying focused.”

While the Irish have more than risen to the occasion thus far, the real challenge is only just beginning. The ACC is perennially one of the top conferences in college soccer, and currently boasts six teams in the top-25 — including four within the top seven spots. 

“We set ourselves up really well,” Norman said. “Our conference is a beast of a conference, we’ve just got to really refocus ourselves and go into every game and try to be ourselves and have that attacking mindset and that identity to just go after teams and have that hunger.”

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@nd.edu.

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