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Irish season ends to Tar Heels in NCAA quarterfinals

On Saturday night, the Notre Dame women’s soccer season came to an end with a 2-0 loss to UNC in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. 

The Tar Heels set the tone early. A first-half goal from Ally Sentnor put the away side ahead just 20 minutes into the match. Libby Moore unleashed a powerful long shot that careened off the crossbar, and the senior burst forward to head the ball past Irish graduate student goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood.

North Carolina continued its dominance for the remainder of the first half, controlling the pace of the game and the majority of the chances. They outshot the Irish 7-2 heading into the break.

Coming out of halftime, things went from bad to worse for Notre Dame. Within minutes, the Irish conceded what would prove to be the game-icing goal. Talia Dellaperuta’s initial effort was blocked back to her, and the junior made no mistakes with her second attempt, firing home into the roof of the net. 

Late surge not enough

The second goal seemed to jolt the Irish attack awake. Notre Dame found a renewed energy and picked up its tempo. Several dangerous crosses came across the face of the UNC net, but try as the Irish might, they just couldn’t make their way past Tar Heel goalkeeper Emmie Allen. 

North Carolina excelled all night at controlling the middle of the pitch and forcing Notre Dame out wide. That defensive strategy, head coach Nate Norman remarked, the Irish weren’t able to capitalize on enough.

“They clogged up the center, I think as the game went on we really needed to play in those wide areas,” Norman said. “We needed to keep switching. They were kind of giving us that, I think if we were to have gotten to that a little bit earlier in the game it would have opened up and they would have adjusted and pulled out. We just didn’t find those passes sometimes. I think if we could have handled that better the game might have gone differently.”

Irish eyeing more in 2023

The match marked the final game in Irish colors for several key graduate student contributors. That includes striker Olivia Wingate, wingback Brianna Martinez and goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood. Norman thanked the group for their contributions to the program and its recent growth after the game.

“All those kids, they pushed this group forward,” Norman said. “Kids that have been here five years, some of them just one year, but they’re all a part of a group that’s putting Notre Dame back on the map. Grinding through the rough times and being resilient. Just being selfless and giving everything they can to that team. I couldn’t be more proud of those players.”

The Irish have now seen a second consecutive season with growth in both on-field play and final standing. Last year, Notre Dame fell in the Sweet 16. Norman said there’s still more to come for Notre Dame as the program looks ahead to 2023.

“I think we have a ton of returning talent and we’re bringing in a really good recruiting class,” Norman said. “I just think all these experiences give you confidence and belief. Hopefully, this will really motivate us and fuel us throughout the spring season to really grow and get better, which I think they did this past year. I think we can take it to a new level which I’m really excited about.”

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

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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.

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Sports

Notre Dame women’s soccer advances to ACC semifinals

Notre Dame women’s soccer advanced to the ACC semifinals Saturday, downing Pittsburgh on penalty kicks.

The game wasn’t without regular time fireworks, as the Irish accumulated 26 total shots over 110 minutes of open play. Notre Dame was able to take the lead in the second after senior forward Kiki van Zanten coolly finished a cross from graduate defender Brianna Martinez. But the lead given by the well-worked goal was short-lived.

Just under fifteen minutes later, the Panthers found an equalizer. The goal was caused by some set piece mayhem, as the Irish failed to clear a dangerous long ball into the box. Goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood inadvertently knocked down center back Eva Gaetino, and in the commotion Katie Zailski was able to lob a pass to Leah Pais in front of the net. With Wood on the ground, Pais made quick work of the chance, guiding the ball into an empty goal to tie the game at one.

The knotted scoreline would stand until penalties, when Irish head coach Nate Norman made a bold change. Removing Wood in favor of junior Ashley Naylor, Norman opted to go with the goalkeeper that won Notre Dame its only shootout of the 2021 season.

And although Naylor didn’t make a save, the result validated the decision. After the Panthers’ Sarah Schupansky and Irish senior midfielder Maddie Mercado traded converted attempts, Zailski struck the post with her effort. The damage was done. Sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert confidently scored her third penalty attempt in as many games to give the advantage to the Irish, and Notre Dame didn’t look back. 

Van Zanten, senior defender Waniya Hudson and Martinez all found the back of the net with their efforts, and the Irish advanced to the semifinals. After the match, Norman said he stressed simplicity in how he prepared his team for the shootout.

“I think for us it’s just about having good visualization,” Norman said. “Getting in your routine, making sure they think about each step of the process, not overanalyzing what happens. Just knowing that if you’re the one going up to take the PK, you put the ball where you want it, and that’s all you’ve got to worry about.”

Martinez also credited visualization with aiding her preparation for taking the game-deciding fifth penalty.

“I knew that I was the fifth PK taker, and that I was probably going to take it no matter what,” Martinez said. “So it was just about having the mental imagery of the ball hitting the back of the net before going up.”

Looking ahead, the Irish have now drawn themselves a matchup with defending national champion Florida State in the semifinals. The game is a rematch of one of Notre Dame’s biggest wins this season, a 4-0 triumph in South Bend just weeks ago.

Norman said that he’s looking for his side to attack the rematch with fresh eyes despite the earlier rout.

“I think it’s really about trying to bring energy into the game,” Norman said. “It’s a different game. They’ll come out and they’ll try to press us, and we’ll try to press them. It will be an open game, it’ll be a fun game for us to play, and I think for us it’s just about trying to bring a really hard, tough mentality against one of the very best teams in the country.”

Notre Dame will kick off against Florida State in Cary, North Carolina this Thursday with a trip to the ACC Championship on the line. The game will begin at 8 p.m. and will be broadcasted on the ACC Network.