ND Women’s Soccer
Irish start ACC play strong with 3-1 win over Wake Forest
Andrew McGuinness | Monday, September 18, 2023
The first seven games of the Notre Dame women’s soccer season produced some ups, downs and in-betweens. But Friday night marked the beginning of what the Irish have been looking forward to. A year ago, Notre Dame came up agonizingly close to winning the ACC regular season championship. The same could be said about reaching the conference championship game, with Notre Dame scoring three goals against No. 5 Florida State but falling in penalty kicks.
Winning in the ACC is always difficult. The conference is consistently one of the best in college soccer, and it’s shaping up to be that way again in 2023. Six teams in the conference are ranked in the top 25. Three are in the top 10. Wake Forest, who entered Friday at 6-0-1, wasn’t even one of them, although they did make the receiving votes section.
The Irish dealt the Demon Deacons their first set-back of 2023, though, with a convincing 3-1 victory at Alumni Stadium on Friday night. For the second straight game, the Irish tallied three times from three different goal-scorers.
Two of those goal-scorers were repeats from Notre Dame’s previous contest, though. For the fifth time in their last six games, the Irish drew first blood, barely waiting five minutes to do so. An excellent pass from sophomore midfielder Leah Klenke snuck into the box and found streaking graduate student midfielder Kristina Lynch for her third goal of the season. It was Lynch’s first game in the starting lineup since Aug. 27 against Arkansas, an opportunity she made sure to capitalize on.
Wake Forest nearly answered back just moments later, with star scorer Caiya Hanks ripping a shot off the crossbar. However, both offenses would sputter out for much of the half, with Wake Forest in particular struggling to generate chances after the first few minutes. Given both teams entered the night top 20 nationally in shots per game, it was surprising to see both fall into a slump.
But the Irish wouldn’t stay down forever. While Wake Forest struggled to put pressure on the Irish defense, they had no trouble racking up fouls. Wake Forest exceeded its season average for fouls per game in the first half alone, committing 11. Their 10th gave the Irish a free kick just outside the box with barely two minutes remaining in the half. That was enough time for graduate student forward Maddie Mercado to make something happen, as she led the ball into just the right spot for senior midfielder Ellie Ospeck to chip in her third goal of the season and give the Irish a critical insurance marker.
The offensive dormancy quickly set back in early in the half. Other than another dangerous bid from Hanks that senior goalkeeper Ashley Naylor made a diving stop on, chances were few and far between for the first 30 minutes of the second half. This time, the Irish found the opportunistic trait that had bit them quite a few times earlier this season. Notre Dame earned its luck, though, with Klenke making an impressive run to keep the ball alive along the near sideline. Moments later, she worked it across to Mercado, who this time called her own number with a perfectly placed strike to elude the dive of Wake keeper Madison Howard.
Although Hanks would get a much-earned goal with five minutes left, the Irish were never seriously threatened. With a gauntlet of top opponents to finish their season, it was paramount for the Irish to start conference play strong. Friday’s complete effort checked that box off emphatically.