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Notre Dame women’s soccer drops first match of the season against Clemson

Notre Dame women’s soccer dropped their first contest of the season, falling on the road to Clemson 2-0 on Thursday.

Proving conference play is always a different beast, the Tigers threw down the gauntlet for Notre Dame early. Just twenty minutes into the match, Sami Meredith got into transition and slotted home the opening goal to draw first blood for Clemson. Meredith’s opener marked the first time all season Notre Dame conceded first in a match.

And though a tightened Irish defense would hold the Tigers without a shot on goal for the remainder of the first half, Clemson would strike again before game’s end. Emily Brough found the back of the net after a ball was played across the box to put Notre Dame away for good.

The Irish did generate a few big chances over the final 30 minutes in a spirited attempt at a comeback, but ultimately the finishing touch just wasn’t there on the road. Most notably, sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert cracked an impressive effort off the crossbar from a distance and graduate student forward Olivia Wingate nearly connected on the ricochet. Wingate would get another chance at goal in the minute 68, driving nearly the length of the pitch with the ball before coming up short on the final conversion. 

The loss drops the Irish to 7-1-0 on the season, but the chance for an immediate rebound looms this Thursday.

The Virginia Cavaliers travel to South Bend on Thursday night, giving Notre Dame a chance to knock off one of the ACC’s top dogs and make a statement heading down the stretch of conference play.

The Cavaliers dispatched No. 2 North Carolina 3-2 in a thriller Saturday night, meaning they’ll presumably arrive at Alumni Stadium on Thursday as a top-five team in national rankings, and definitively the top team in the ACC.

Junior Lia Godfrey has helped lead the way thus far for Virginia, notching four goals as well as three assists from midfield. It was goals from Godfrey, as well as Rebecca Jarrett and Alexa Spaanstra, that helped the Cavaliers charge back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to beat the Tar Heels on Saturday.

The match also stands as a chance for Irish head coach Nate Norman to make a major statement on his resume at Notre Dame. Since his appointment, Norman is 0-13-1 against the ACC’s consistent top tier of UNC, Virginia, Duke and Florida State and 0-19-1 against opponents ranked No. 10 or higher in the coaches’ poll. 

But there are plenty of signs that this could be the year Norman and the Irish break through. Last season, Notre Dame came painstakingly close several times to getting that first win against the ACC’s elite. They dropped three consecutive games against Virginia, Duke and North Carolina, two of which came in overtime and all of which were played on the road. 

A win on Thursday would boost Notre Dame to a top-five ranking and assert the Irish early as an ACC title contender. With a home crowd (Notre Dame is 15-1-1 at Alumni Stadium over the last two years) backing up an impressive squad that has enjoyed their best start to a season in years, Thursday is set to be a marquee matchup for the Irish and their head coach. 

The Irish return home on Thursday Sept. 22 to play Virginia at 7 p.m. EST. The game will be streamed on ACCNX.

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

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Irish women’s soccer looks to build on perfect start, heads into ACC play

After finishing off a perfect non-conference schedule this weekend, the Notre Dame women’s soccer team will look to build on their momentum as they travel to Clemson Thursday night. 

“We have high hopes for this season, we have a really talented team,” head coach Nate Norman said after Sunday’s 3-1 victory over Ohio. “We’re clicking, we can do some major damage.”

The Irish (7-0-0), winners of their first seven games of the year, moved up to sixth in this week’s United Soccer Coaches Poll. The Irish are now one of just four undefeated teams, alongside Harvard, Rutgers and UCLA.

The matchup with the Tigers (4-1-2), ranked No. 24, will be the first ACC contest of the year for both sides. Notre Dame will be seeking revenge after the Tigers knocked them out of the ACC tournament quarterfinals last year in a nail biting 3-2 defeat. 

Notre Dame has been dominant through their first seven games — their first perfect non-conference slate in nearly 15 years. The last time this occurred in 2008, the team went 27-1 and advanced to the national championship game. The Irish have been outstanding on both sides of the pitch this year, notching 175 shots against just 31 from their opponents. 

“I’m really proud of us, we’re doing something that’s very special that we set a goal for ourselves and we were able to accomplish,” said junior center back Eva Gaetino. “We have to stay humble, we have to have humility and we have to understand that these games are going to be hard, but I also think that these wins have given us momentum going into these tougher games.”

Offensively, graduate student Olivia Wingate will continue to be crucial to the team’s success — she has already notched six goals on the year, one away from her career high. Senior midfielder Maddie Mercado has also performed extremely well, scoring five goals thus far. 

The Irish have had nine different players score a goal, and depth could prove important in what will be a grueling ACC schedule. “We have a really deep team,” Norman said. “It’s hard, there’s only so many minutes in games, so we’re trying to allow players, even some of our younger players, to develop and get time.” 

On the defensive side of the pitch, Gaetino has been a standout performer. She was recently named to the Mac Hermann Trophy watch list, which honors the top mens’ and womens’ college soccer players. 

“It’s details, details, details,” Gaetino said as to what sets the Irish defense apart. “Never turning off, always staying focused.”

While the Irish have more than risen to the occasion thus far, the real challenge is only just beginning. The ACC is perennially one of the top conferences in college soccer, and currently boasts six teams in the top-25 — including four within the top seven spots. 

“We set ourselves up really well,” Norman said. “Our conference is a beast of a conference, we’ve just got to really refocus ourselves and go into every game and try to be ourselves and have that attacking mindset and that identity to just go after teams and have that hunger.”

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@nd.edu.

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Creating tiers of ACC women’s soccer

Through seven games of non-conference play, it would be difficult to call Notre Dame women’s soccer’s season anything but a roaring success. The team has notched a perfect 7-0-0 record, with every win coming by a multiple goal margin. The defense has allowed just three goals across 630 minutes of play. And with ACC play on the horizon, the Irish have risen to 6th in the Coaches Poll — their highest ranking in years.

But ACC play should provide the Irish with some of their hardest tests yet. As always, the ACC is tremendously deep, with a host of teams in contention for both the conference crown and the NCAA tournament. Here’s a look at where the best teams stand in the country’s strongest soccer conference.

TIER ONE: Title favorites, College Cup contenders

The teams: UNC, Virginia, Duke and Notre Dame

This group is led by North Carolina, who have looked near-unstoppable at times. Their handling of a pair of quality teams in Tennessee and Texas in the first weeks of the season were reminiscent of prior Tar Heel teams that would hardly look threatened until the College Cup. UNC came back down to earth with a loss to UCLA, but rebounded as well as one could have asked with a 3-0 dispatching of local rival, and fellow College Cup contender, Duke.

Virginia hasn’t played as intensive of a non-conference slate as UNC, but the Cavaliers passed their biggest test with a 1-0 win on the road against Georgetown. A home draw against Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) ended what had been a perfect run to start the season, but a trip to Chapel Hill this weekend could allow Virginia to respond with a major statement.

Duke has been the most inconsistent of any of the top tier. A furious comeback against Tennessee and an impressive road thumping of TCU give the Blue Devils a pair of ranked wins. But, in their most recent outing, they were outclassed in front of a home crowd against North Carolina. Led by one of the country’s best strikers in Michelle Cooper, the Blue Devils have the pieces. But, they’ll need to regain momentum after a big rivalry loss.

Rounding out the top tier is, perhaps, the most surprising addition: Notre Dame. There was a lot of hope for an experienced Irish team that has eight upperclassmen starters. But, I don’t think anyone expected Notre Dame to open the season a perfect 7-0-0 with dominant wins over ranked St. Louis and Wisconsin teams, and a total goal difference of +18 through seven games. If the Irish maintain their pace in conference play, they’ll be on a very short list of national title contenders.

TIER TWO: Title dark horses, NCAA tournament threats

The teams: Florida State, Clemson and Wake Forest

Florida State has been perhaps the most fascinating team in the ACC over the offseason and regular season. The 2021 national champions entered the season largely unknown, playing with a new coach and a largely changed roster, nobody was sure where the Seminoles floor and ceiling would be. Through six games, the question of floor has been answered. Florida State dispatched four of their weaker non-conference games with relative ease. But, the ceiling of the Seminoles is harder to determine. In their two games against ranked teams, Florida State has produced a solid but uninspiring two draws. Oct. 6 will likely be the first day anyone can make a serious guess as to the Seminoles’ odds of a College Cup comeback as this is when they start an absolutely brutal four game stretch against Virginia, Notre Dame, Duke and North Carolina.

Clemson is another strange read in trying to sort out the rest of the pack behind the obvious standouts from the first half of the season. Much like Florida State, the Tigers have handled their weaker non-conference games without issue. However, they hold an unimpressive 0-1-2 record against likely tournament teams. A visit from Notre Dame on Thursday should say a lot about the Tigers’ chances of putting together a dark horse ACC title charge.

Rounding out the second tier is a seemingly always underrated Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have been far from flashy this season, winning just three of their eight games by more than one goal, but they’ve also been effective. They’re yet to lose, and have a credible draw against a very good Auburn team in their one test against ranked opposition. The Deacons surprised a lot of teams last year in an underdog run to the ACC semi-finals. So far this year they’ve shown a lot of promise that they could make a similar run. 

TIER THREE: Possible NCAA tournament teams, but unlikely ACC contenders

The teams: North Carolina State, Pitt and Virginia Tech

North Carolina State has been another tough team to get a bead on over the first half of the season. They’re 1-1-2 in the month of September (as opposed to 3-0-1 in August), with a confusing pair of ties with both nationally ranked South Carolina as well as lowly unranked Nebraska. They don’t have a statement win on their resume yet, and will have as much of an incentive as anyone to bring their best in conference play to get into the tournament field.

Pitt looked like a potential tier 2 team for much of non-conference play, though a loss to VCU brought the Panthers back down to Earth. But with senior forward partnership Amanda West and Leah Pais combining for 28 points in just eight games, it would be unwise to count out Pitt as a serious threat in the ACC.

Finishing this final tier is Virginia Tech. After surviving a brutal opening day scare against William and Mary, the Hokies have straightened out and worked their way to a solid 6-1-1 record. Much like the other teams in this tier, however, their lack of a statement win means they have work to do in ACC play.

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Observer sports staff ranks ND football schedule

With just days leading up to the daunting season opener in Columbus, 23 Observer sportswriters sat down to vote on how to rank the Irish schedule, from the easiest game to their most challenging clash. Here are the results:

12. UNLV (Average Rank: 11.59)

Out of 23 votes, 15 placed the Rebels 12th, with an additional seven ranking the Group of 5 opponent at No. 11. This should be a very easy home clash, and the votes indicated as such. 

11. Marshall (9.84)

After UNLV, things did get a little less clear. Marshall slots in at eleventh, but the Thundering Herd were ranked as high as sixth. A lot of this ranking could be dependent on the status of running back Rasheen Ali. The talented back is currently away from the team with an undisclosed issue but is a difference-maker if on the field. 

10. Navy (9.06)

Another volatile ranking came with the Midshipmen. Although they generally settled towards the lower end of things, several writers ranked the Naval Academy much higher. This can be a tribute to the triple option, a traditionally tricky offense to handle. But the Midshipmen ultimately are a far less talented roster, as is standard in this rivalry, leading to this No. 10 ranking. 

9. Cal (8.11)

The Golden Bears have a solid defense and a generally abysmal offense. If the Irish’s new-look offense comes out firing, then this matchup shouldn’t be an issue. However, that’s not a slam-dunk certainty. This matchup got ranked as high as third on our list. If Notre Dame is struggling offensively, this would become a defensive grindfest where small mistakes could determine the outcome. 

8. Syracuse (7.911)

The road trip to visit the Orange generally ranked in the middle of most rankings. One voter ranked it the easiest game on the slate, while a trio slotted it as high as No. 5. The timing of this game is difficult, with it coming a week after that UNLV game. What should be a cakewalk in the prior week could have the Irish sleepwalking in Syracuse, particularly if they’re looking ahead to Clemson the following week. If that’s the case, the Orange have a solid defense and a respectable offense to make this a chilly and miserable Halloween weekend for Notre Dame. Ultimately, however, the Irish should have plenty of talent to prevail. 

7. Stanford (7.675)

To rank it high because of the rivalry and primetime status of the game, or to rank it low because Stanford has been absolutely miserable in recent years. That was the dilemma facing our voters, which ultimately led to this middle-of-the-road ranking. Voters slotted the Cardinal as high as fourth and as low as eleventh, with votes placing the Irish’s lesser Californian rival at every spot in between. Coming off an intense road trip to Vegas, this could be a sleeper trap game, but Notre Dame has dominated this matchup in recent years. 

6. Boston College (6.963)

The Holy War and the Phil Jurkovec revenge tour are enough to vault the Eagles into the top half of the rankings. On talent alone, they likely wouldn’t make it. But Jurkovec has been somewhat outspoken about his displeasure regarding his time in South Bend, and he’s got some talent at the skill positions, headlined by Zay Flowers. A Senior Day stunner in Notre Dame Stadium is unlikely but not unthinkable. 

5. UNC (4.79)

The Tar Heels have to replace Sam Howell at quarterback, but Drake Maye looks like the real deal, at least as much as one can in preseason. The challenge for the Tar Heels may be that Notre Dame is their first Power-5 opponent of the year. Will their young quarterback be ready against a veteran Irish defense? However, it’s certainly a tricky road trip for the Irish, and the Tar Heels have the offense to force Notre Dame into a shootout. That’s not a recipe for success for the 2022 Notre Dame squad. This has been a close game in the previous two matchups, and it could be once more in Week 4. 

4. BYU (4.34)

The Catholics and the Mormons in Sin City. It’s a matchup made in heaven for headline writers, but it’s not a walk in the park for Notre Dame. The Cougars return 97% of their defensive production from 2021, as well as plenty of offensive production as well. Quarterback Jaren Hall is a gamechanger, and BYU always has some elite talent at wide receiver. A massive difference maker could be the environment. It’s a home game for Notre Dame, meaning they get the larger ticket share. But BYU travels well and is located closer. It wouldn’t be uncharacteristic for some of Notre Dame’s fanbase to sell off their tickets and make this less of a homey environment for the Irish. 

3. USC (3.816)

USC was relatively consistently ranked between third and sixth on the ballots. One ballot listed the Trojans at No. 2, while one dropped USC down to eighth. It’s a reflection of the turnover within the program, as there are certainly question marks about how the team looks under Lincoln Riley. With the renowned head coach at the helm, along with highly touted quarterback Caleb Williams coming over along with wide receiver and Biletkinoff winner Jordan Addison, the offense could be scary. But the defense has struggled recently, and the Trojans may still be relatively one-dimensional. Where this game ranks in terms of difficulty will become clearer throughout the season. But for now the raw offensive talent on USC’s roster, plus a road rivalry game, is enough to rank this contest third overall. 

2. Clemson (2.17)

The Tigers received 20 votes at 2nd place, a pair of third-place votes, and a single tally at fourth place. Almost unanimously, this is one of the toughest games on the schedule for the Irish. Will the Irish storm the field once more, or can Clemson pull off the road victory? Both teams have elite defenses, strong ground games and questions surrounding their aerial attack. It’s a titanic clash of extremely similar, and likely highly ranked, teams that will be an incredible home test for Marcus Freeman and Co. 

1. Ohio State

In a not-so-shocking development, all 23 ballots ranked this weekend’s upcoming clash with Ohio State as the most difficult game on the schedule. Can’t say much about this one that hasn’t already been said. But it’s going to be a brutal and bruising test for the Irish. As 17.5 point underdogs, the Irish haven’t won while being such underdogs since 2007, when they won as 21-point underdogs against UCLA. Can they shock the world on Saturday night in Columbus? The summer of anticipation is almost over. 

Aidan Thomas

Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu