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ND Women’s Soccer

Notre Dame women’s soccer prepares for first conference clash against Wake Forest

| Thursday, September 14, 2023

Aidan Thomas | The Observer
Notre Dame senior forward Kiki Van Zanten prepares to pass the ball upfield in an August 28 game versus Illinois.

Notre Dame women’s soccer will look to start ACC play strong on Friday night, when they welcome Wake Forest to Alumni Stadium.

The Demon Deacons should represent a considerable first conference foe for the Irish. They’ve gone unbeaten over their own seven-game out-of-conference slate, with six wins and a draw to their name. Those wins include victories against multiple Power Five opponents, such as Auburn and Purdue. However, their contest with No. 23 Brown, who would have been the first ranked team Wake Forest faced, was canceled. Notre Dame will enter Friday’s matchup ranked No. 13 in the country.

Expect Nikayla Small to help lead the way for the Demon Deacons in South Bend. The junior midfielder has started the season impressively, recording five assists in seven games. The former All-ACC Freshman Team honoree missed the entire 2022 season with an injury but has been back with a point to prove in 2023.

Wake Forest’s defense has been one of the ACC’s best through non-conference play and should offer a stern challenge to the Irish attack. The Demon Deacons have allowed just two goals this season, as well as a total of just 18 shots on target.

The main story for Notre Dame will be who earns the start at goalkeeper. Senior Ashley Naylor started the first six matches of the season for the Irish, but head coach Nate Norman opted for a change in net during the team’s most recent contest against Bowling Green. Freshman Atlee Olofson got the start against the Falcons, playing her first minutes of the season. Olofson made a pair of saves in a shutout victory.

The midfield should also be a point of interest for Notre Dame in its first conference test. Norman has experimented with a number of different midfield combinations over the first stretch of the season, with the most recent trio being sophomore Leah Klenke, junior Sophia Fisher and graduate student Kiki Van Zanten. Sophomore midfielder Laney Matriano missed the last two matches with injury but figures to be a factor as well upon return. Freshman forward Charlie Codd has also recently entered the starting lineup, playing as a wingback. Codd’s emergence as a starter came in response to Klenke’s move from wingback to center midfield.

A strong result against Wake Forest will likely be paramount to the Irish’s chances of qualifying for the ACC tournament. Notre Dame, who has excelled at home under Norman, will play almost all of their toughest conference matches on the road this fall. Picking up home victories will be a must for a team looking to build upon 2022’s third-place finish.

Notre Dame women’s soccer will be back in action this Friday against Wake Forest at Alumni Stadium. The match will kickoff at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on ACCNX.

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About J.J. Post

J.J. Post is a senior in Fisher Hall. Hailing from Mountainside, New Jersey, he's currently working his way towards being the nation's foremost expert on college soccer. Whether via the button below or his overly active Twitter (@JayJayPost), feel free to reach out and talk about Notre Dame soccer, football, basketball, volleyball, baseball or softball. Or any other Notre Dame sport you can think of. Odds are he watches it as well.

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