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Irish shut out Santa Clara, TCU to reach cusp of College Cup

By J.J. Post and José Sánchez Córdova

It was a dream weekend for Notre Dame women’s soccer, which took a pair of games in the NCAA Tournament on home turf, moving within one win of reaching the College Cup. The party started on Friday night, as the Irish put forth their most dominant showing of the season, steamrolling Santa Clara 4-0 in South Bend.

The Irish got started early, immediately attacking the Bronco net from distance. With midfielder Korbin Albert given an apparent green light to take aim at goal from whenever she deemed fit, the sophomore peppered Santa Clara goalkeeper Marlee Nicolos with shot after shot from distance.

And after nearly 44 minutes of domination on the shot counter but not the scoreboard, Notre Dame broke, through. Some chaos in the box led to graduate student defender Ashley Zugay being dragged down in the box. Albert unsurprisingly took the ensuing penalty, and converted cooly to give Notre Dame a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.

Coming out of the half, the Irish exploded. Albert found a sliver of space at the edge of the box and blasted her second goal of the game by the near post. Just 34 seconds later, freshman midfielder Laney Matriano broke free and uncorked a shot into the corner of the net to put Notre Dame up 3-0 over a seemingly shell-shocked Broncos defense. The goal was Matriano’s first of her collegiate career.

The Irish would find one more goal before full-time, this time off the boot of senior forward Kiki Van Zanten. Albert read a pass in the midfield and charged forward. But this time instead of shooting, she opted to play an incisive through ball across the middle of the Santa Clara defense. The pass found Van Zanten, who beat Nicolos with a neat finish to expand the Notre Dame lead to four.

The 4-0 scoreline was incredibly not nearly indicative of the level of control the Irish enjoyed Friday night. Notre Dame outshot the Broncos by a margin of 40-5, by some distance the gaudiest differential of any round of 32 game. The Irish held possession for nearly the entirety of the second half. Starting Irish keeper, graduate student Mackenzie Wood, made just one save in nearly 80 minutes of action.

The Irish kept rolling on Sunday, beating TCU 2-0 in to advance to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. The win means the Irish make their first national quarterfinal since 2012 and their first under head coach Nate Norman.

“This is always a tough weekend because you play two games so quickly,” Norman said. “It really tests the resiliency and resolve and your ability to recover and how fit and deep you are. That all paid off for us in this game.”

After her meteoric performance against Santa Clara, Albert was relatively quiet Sunday. The Horned Frogs held her to just two shots, with neither being on target. Instead, graduate student forward Olivia Wingate and senior midfielder Maddie Mercado came through for the Irish with a goal each.

“When teams focus so much on taking [Korbin Albert] away it opens up spaces for other players. You saw Maddie and Liv find that space and get those finishes tonight. So, when teams try to crowd her like that, we try and help her move and find space, but it just allows other players a lot more space to play,” Norman said.

Wingate opened the scoring in the 20th minute. After receiving a pass from Van Zanten, she used her signature speed to get into the box and then calmly slot the opening goal into the bottom left corner of the goal. Mercado’s insurance goal came in the 65th minute on a rocket off her left foot that found the far corner from outside the box.

“I looked over my shoulder and didn’t see anyone near me, so I was just like ‘I’m going to go for it,’” Mercado said.

TCU also had their fair share of chances, taking 10 shots. That included one from midfielder Payton Crews that forced an outstanding diving save from Wood in the 29th minute. The shutout means Notre Dame has yet to concede in the NCAA tournament. The Irish have outscored their opponents 11-0 over the first three rounds.

“It’s doing the simple things and doing them often. That way we limit their chances, block shots and keep it tight in the box. If we do all that it’s going to be really difficult for someone to score on us,” Norman said.

The triumph has earned Notre Dame a quarterfinal matchup against the 18-4-1 North Carolina Tar Heels, who beat BYU Saturday to advance. It will be the first meeting between the two teams this year despite the shared conference. And, as the top seed, the Irish will host the showdown next Saturday. UNC shared the ACC regular season title with Florida State but lost to the Seminoles in the ACC tournament final.

“I think we all have a chip on our shoulder going into that game. We’re excited,” Mercado said. “We wanted to see them in ACC play, but figured we’d see them in the tournament. It’s exciting because obviously, they’re a very talented team, but so are we. It’s going to be a big week of preparation and we’re really excited to get after them.”

Contact J.J. post at jpost2@nd.edu.

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsach24@nd.edu.

Categories
Sports

Irish dominate Omaha to start NCAA Tournament strong

Notre Dame women’s soccer cruised by Omaha 5-0 Saturday, advancing to the NCAA tournament round of 32.

Three early goals put the Irish in control early. Sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert opened the scoring just six minutes in. Though Notre Dame was initially stymied by Omaha’s deep 4-5-1 block, Albert’s affinity for finding the back of the net proved an effective tool in breaking down the Maverick defense.

After Albert’s curled opening tally, Omaha’s defensive solidity weakened considerably. In the eighth minute, a searching cross from graduate student defender Brianna Martinez sailed across the goal untouched. Forward Olivia Wingate tapped it home to double the score. 

Wingate would then double up just moments later. Senior midfielder Maddie Mercado took a shot that deflected into her path just a few feet away from the net. The graduate student made no mistake, giving the Irish a commanding 3-0 lead before the 10-minute mark.

Following Wingate’s second goal, with the match comfortably in Irish control, the scoring touch mostly dried up for Notre Dame. The Irish continually generated shots — 26 to be exact. But they wouldn’t find the back of the net until late in the second half.

Mercado would then get her first of the contest, marking the senior’s first goal since Oct. 9. Mercado’s goal was perhaps the best of the afternoon as well, as she bent the ball into the top corner of the net from distance.

Notre Dame would get one more for additional emphasis before the game’s end thanks to Paige Peltier. The junior forward added her first career goal with five minutes remaining in the contest, heading home a corner from graduate student defender Ashley Zugay.

After the game head coach Nate Norman credited Albert’s early goal for helping the Irish take control of the game from the start.

“Getting the early goal was everything to set the tone,” Norman said. “I think in these types of games, these first-round games, you want to get all over [the opposition.] They’re coming into the game, trying to build confidence as the game wears on, and I think to get that early goal deflates them and doesn’t allow them to get any comfort in the game.”

Norman also discussed how his team looked more experienced in their first NCAA tournament game compared to last year’s run, which had been the longest in his tenure as Irish coach.

“That run last year obviously ended before we wanted it to, it created that hunger,” Norman said. “Just having that experience, what it feels like, the emotions going into the game. Even having someone like [graduate student forward] Kristina [Lynch] here too, she’s won two national championships, and it’s really crucial to have someone like that in our group as well.”

With the win, Notre Dame advances to meet Santa Clara in the round of 32 Friday night. The Broncos will mark a tough test. A College Cup team last year, Santa Clara also features the nation’s second-leading scorer in Izzy D’Aquila. Kickoff will be at 6 p.m. at Alumni Stadium. The match will be televised on the ESPN family of networks.

Contact J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu.