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Irish women’s soccer struggles defensively, falls 3-1 to Pitt

Notre Dame women’s soccer fell to Pittsburgh 3-1 at Alumni Stadium Saturday. The loss marked the Irish’s first home defeat of the season and just the team’s second loss overall.

It was Leah Pais who opened the scoring for the visitors, firing home a rebound on a shot parried by junior keeper Ashley Naylor. The goal was Pais’ seventh of the season, all coming in the month of September as the striker continued her top form. 

After entering halftime down a goal for just the second time all season, Notre Dame was able to get back into the match through a tidy finish by junior striker Ellie Ospeck. Graduate student forward Olivia Wingate took a pass from senior midfielder Maddie Mercado and raced to the endline, before her searching cross found the late run of Ospeck.

Ospeck’s goal marked a strong run of form from the junior, who has worked her way into the Irish lineup as a wingback in recent weeks after previously having been used as a forward. Head coach Nate Norman noted the junior’s quality play over the last week after the game.

“She’s just a fast, athletic player, she’s really good at running at players, and from an attacking standpoint she just causes so many problems for the other team,” said Norman. “She’s dangerous when she gets isolated in situations like she was able to do when she got onto the end of that cross, and I’ve been really happy with her play over the last couple of weeks.”

But after finding the equalizer, Notre Dame’s problems were quick to reappear. Landy Mertz got out in transition in minute sixty-five and gave Pittsburgh back the lead with an impressive chip from the edge of the box. And then just eight minutes later, an attempted clearance by graduate student defender Ashley Zugay in response to a Panther free kick glanced past Naylor for an own goal to give the Panthers a two-goal lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

As evidenced by the two second-half goals, the Irish struggled after losing junior defender Eva Gaetino to a head injury late in the first half. Without Gaetino in her usual position directing traffic in the center of defense, Notre Dame was forced into a continual rotation of center backs as they attempted to find the right chemistry along an inconsistent backline.

Norman spoke about the impact of losing a player like Gaetino and the difficulty of replacing her at halftime.

“It’s hard because she’s obviously a pretty influential player, and losing her in the middle of the game without being able to prepare for it made us really shuffle things around,” Norman said. “We did the best we could in the moment.”

Overall, Norman expressed disappointment with the team’s inability to carry over an impressive midweek showing against Virginia into their clash against Pittsburgh, with the Irish looking sloppy and disconnected for large portions of the game.

“It just wasn’t a good day for us,” said Norman. “We just didn’t play well today at the end of the day.”

Notre Dame will need to pivot quickly to refind their form, as their next match arrives in just four days on the road against Boston College. The match will kick off at 6 p.m. ET and will be broadcasted on the ACC Network.

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