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ND Women’s Soccer

Resilient Irish set for first road tilt at Michigan State

| Thursday, August 31, 2023

Monu Agarwal
Sophomore defender Leah Klenke moves ahead with the ball during Notre Dame’s 3-1 win over Ohio at Alumni Stadium on Sept. 11, 2022.

Through four matches, the 15th-ranked Notre Dame women’s soccer team has earned an undefeated start to the 2023-24 season, but it hasn’t been easy.

The Irish have already faced several tough tests, most notably against No. 8 Arkansas. After going down 2-1, they scraped out a draw courtesy of an 85th-minute equalizer from senior forward Ellie Ospeck. This was one of two draws, the other coming on the receiving end of a late equalizing goal in a 2-2 result against Milwaukee to open the season.

Despite settling for that disappointing draw, the Irish bounced back with consecutive, resounding victories over Ball State (3-0) and Butler (4-1). They will need to maintain this identity throughout the season, especially as they approach conference play against what appears to be very strong ACC competition. For now, they will hope to maintain their undefeated status in East Lansing on Sunday as they face off against the Michigan State Spartans. 

The Irish attack enters Sunday with confidence after scoring 11 goals in its first four matches — almost three per game. That included two against an Arkansas defense that had yet to concede through its first two matches. The attack is spearheaded by graduate student forward Maddie Mercado, who leads the team in shots. While she has only notched one goal so far, the floodgates are bound to open very soon. Graduate student midfielders Kiki Van Zanten and Erin Hohnstein have emerged in setup roles, each sharing a team-high two assists with Van Zanten providing a goal of her own.

However, somewhat surprisingly, senior defender Eva Gaetino leads the team in scoring with three goals, performing brilliantly on both ends of the field. Beyond completing defensive duties, she has been an immense presence getting forward for set pieces, terrorizing opponents in the 18. The Irish defense will look to respond after conceding twice against a talented Arkansas attack. A clean sheet would be a wonderful confidence booster for a unit that has endured a couple of challenging matches.

They will face a Spartan attack that has compiled a strong start to the season statistically but still may have some question marks based on early performances. On paper, 11 goals in four matches would appear as strong as Notre Dame’s scoring record. However, seven of these goals came in a 7-0 rout against Northern Colorado. Otherwise, the Spartans have four in their other three matches, including none in their most recent loss to Colorado.

Jordyn Wickes and Emerson Sargeant have been at the heart of the Spartans’ production. Wickes sits on a team-high three goals after her hat trick against Northern Colorado. Sargeant, meanwhile, has tallied a goal and a team-best three assists. Like the Irish, the Spartan defense will look to respond after conceding twice in the loss to Colorado. Its record has been otherwise strong, only allowing one goal in its three other matches.

Sunday should prove to be a competitive matchup between two teams off to formidable starts this season. The Spartans will attempt to get back on track at home after their previous defeat. The Irish, on the other hand, must once again call upon their resilience as they follow an emotional draw with a road test. 

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