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Irish rally twice to tie Duke, finish third in ACC

Notre Dame women’s soccer tied Duke 2-2 Thursday night in an exciting showdown at Alumni Stadium.

It was the Blue Devils who struck first, with 2021 freshman All-American forward Michelle Cooper firing a stunning strike off the inside of the post. But the Irish would counter less than five minutes after halftime. Duke brought down Irish senior midfielder Maddie Mercado, giving the Irish a PK. Sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert stepped up to the penalty spot and converted for the second straight game to knot the score at 1-1.

Duke would once again work their way into the lead with twenty minutes remaining. Kat Rader found space in the box with some clever dribbling and slotting the ball home. But Notre Dame would once more respond quickly, again off the foot of Albert.

The sophomore attacking midfielder found space just outside the box. She ripped an excellent strike past Duke goalkeeper Ruthie Jones to even the tally. After the game Albert, who played the full 90 minutes in a variety of different roles for the Irish, said her moving around the field doesn’t change her game.

“It doesn’t affect my game at all,” Albert said. “I just make sure I know what my role is. I ask my coach before the game, and I’m just ready to go wherever I’m needed. Any position I play on the field I’m doing the same thing [tactically]. It’s really not that different whether I’m playing forward or defense.”

The draw ensures the Irish will now match up with the Pitt Panthers on Sunday. Notre Dame has not lost a match since Pitt beat them 3-1 on Sept. 25. However, head coach Nate Norman remarked that positives could still be taken away from the performance, even though a win would have clinched a share of the ACC title.

“I think we needed to have that adversity going into the postseason, where we had to come back in a game,” Norman said. “Typically you’re going to have one of those games in the postseason. So I loved the way we did that, and I loved the way we kept responding.”

Notre Dame ends the season with a 2-0-1 mark against their three hardest conference opponents. That is a stark contrast from prior years in which Notre Dame went 0-19-1 against top 10 teams. Norman mentioned after the game that the team has developed this both physically and mentally in their approach against top-tier opposition

“I think [before this season] we hadn’t been able to get over the hump against these top ten teams,” said Norman. “I think we feel a lot more comfortable, we can control large parts of the game and have great opportunities to win those games.”

The Irish will be back in action Sunday night when they take on Pittsburgh at Alumni Stadium in the first round of the ACC tournament. The game will be available on the ACC Network and starts at 6 p.m.

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

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Irish swept by Louisville ahead of clash with Duke

It is no secret that the Louisville Cardinals volleyball team is a force to be reckoned with in the ACC. The Cards have a near-perfect record and are ranked No. 4 in the AVCA Coaches Poll. On the heels of a 3-2 loss to the surging Pittsburgh Panthers, Louisville stepped right back into form Wednesday night against a downward-trending Notre Dame team. The Cardinals swept the Irish in three sets (25-10, 25-22, 25-14), bringing their record to 19-2 and dropping Notre Dame’s mark to 9-12.

A program-record crowd of 9,058 at the KFC Yum! Center was rowdy from the opening serve, as Louisville stormed out to an early advantage. They quickly built leads of 10-2 and 19-4 before wrapping up the first set at 25-10. The Irish generated some momentum late in the frame, but they fell by 15 in set one for the second time in three games.

Louisville, led by Amaya Tillman and Claire Chaussee (four kills each), hit .600 in the opening set. Graduate student middle blocker Kaylyn Winkler delivered back-to-back kills late for the Irish. But Notre Dame hit .000, with seven errors to neutralize their seven kills. Louisville was magnificent defensively, recording nine digs without making a single reception error.

The second set was a different story, as Notre Dame extended its rhythm from the end to the first, finding themselves in an early 6-6 tie. The Irish matched Louisville stride for stride, leading 9-8 and tying the game as late as the 19th point. Clinging to a mere 23-22 advantage, Louisville delivered the final verdict at the net, making consecutive blocks on Irish attacks to take the set 25-22.

Notre Dame continued to scuffle with a .047 hitting percentage, while sophomore outside hitter Paris Thompson provided four kills. But the Cardinals regressed significantly from set one. They hit only .122 with eight attack errors, as Notre Dame made 15 digs to Louisville’s 17. Racquel Lazaro again led the Cardinals with seven assists after 10 in set one, also contributing a team-high five digs. Junior libero Hattie Monson paced the Irish defensively with seven digs. Sophomore setter Phyona Schrader also added six assists.

Though the second set was a scare, Louisville quickly got back on track. Notre Dame kept it reasonably close, trailing 13-8 at one point. But the Cardinals consistently tallied two points for each one the Irish managed. Tillman finished off the visitors with three kills in the final five points, securing a 25-14 third-set victory and a Cards sweep. Louisville out-killed the Irish 16-6 and out-blocked them 4-1, posting a stellar .250 hitting percentage to Notre Dame’s -.024.

Tillman ended the set with seven kills, followed closely by Chaussee, who racked up six in both the second and third sets. Freshman outside hitter and Kentucky native Lucy Trump delivered four kills for the Irish, and Monson made eight more digs. Neither effort was enough for a Notre Dame team that has now lost nine consecutive sets.

Overall, Notre Dame hit just .009 with four blocks. Trump dished out a team-high seven kills, while Schrader and Thompson each had five. Schrader also led the team with 16 assists. Monson recorded a team-best 17 digs. Freshman libero Maisie Alexander contributed eight, one shy of a career-high.

Louisville hit .266 on the night with 12 blocks, as Chaussee and Tillman combined for 28 kills and 33 points. Tillman, the ACC leader in blocks, totaled two solo shutdowns and six assisted denials. Lazaro also amassed 30 assists, as the Cardinals extended their home win streak to seven games. Notre Dame and Louisville will meet again in South Bend on Nov. 23.

Next up: Irish host Duke

Interestingly enough, Notre Dame’s next opponent, the Duke Blue Devils, must also face the Cardinals in Louisville Friday evening. Duke is 12-9 this season with a 3-7 conference record, sitting just half a game behind Notre Dame at 11th in the ACC. The Blue Devils are coming off a four-game homestand which ended in a 3-1 loss to North Carolina, dropping Duke’s home record to 10-3.

Now, the Blue Devils enter a four-game swing on the road, where they have gone just 1-5 this season. The Irish are looking to stop the skid on an upcoming four-game home set. Since beginning ACC play, Notre Dame has embarked on a four-game losing streak, a three-game winning streak and now an active three-game losing streak.

Duke, coached by all-time program wins leader Jolene Nagel, is hitting .195 this season. Gracie Johnson has spearheaded the Blue Devil attack, ranking second in the ACC with 4.27 kills per set while hitting at a .205 clip. She has finished among the team’s top three in kills during each of her three full seasons at Duke. Lizzie Fleming and Kerry Keefe have also been efficient, posting at least two kills per set and hitting percentages north of .300.

UCLA transfer Devon Chang has orchestrated the offense, placing third in the ACC with 10.18 assists per set. Nikki Underwood leads the group in digs with 3.46 per set (min. 30 sets played), while Rylie Kadel has posted 1.15 blocks per set.

Notre Dame, coached by newcomer Salima Rockwell, is hitting .178 as a team and showcases a much more balanced attack than Duke. Though the Irish have three players with over two kills per set, none of them are hitting better than .200 and not a single member of the team is above .290. Schrader leads the team with 7.94 assists per set and has racked up as many as 54 in a game this year. Monson is still among the ACC’s top-five in digs per set (4.28), steadying a youthful Irish bunch.

The ACC matchup will take place at 1:00 p.m. ET this Sunday. The game is available on ACC Network Extra.

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It’s time: Irish head into must-win match against undefeated Duke

The Fighting Irish men’s soccer team suffered a 2-0 loss to No. 11 Louisville at home this past Saturday, a defeat in which the Irish took three times more shots and four times more corners than the Cardinals. The Irish maintained the majority of possession and controlled much of the flow of the match too. But, the Irish failed to convert on their many prime scoring chances, a problem which has plagued them all season.

The Irish hope to get back on track in their next match against the Duke Blue Devils, but the battle will be an uphill one. Duke is currently ranked third in the country, with a record of 8-0-3. The Blue Devils have several results which demonstrate their dominance this season, including a 2-1 win over Louisville on the road and a 3-2 win against No. 10 Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. They tied Virginia in a 0-0 deadlock away from home as well. 

The Blue Devils and the Irish have shared only one common win thus far this season, over the Boston College Eagles. Both teams defeated the struggling Eagles at home, with Duke prevailing 1-0 and the Irish claiming victory with a score of 2-1.

The primary concern of the Irish going into Saturday night’s matchup will be the struggling offense. Despite a talented roster, and one of the strongest freshman classes nationwide, the departures of key players from last year’s side have shown when the Irish attack in the final third of the pitch. Shots have not resulted in goals for the team, either through a lack of clinical execution or poor luck. Notre Dame currently ranks towards the bottom of the ACC in key offensive metrics and have gone scoreless in their last two matches.

This is not to say the Fighting Irish have no business taking the field with the undefeated Blue Devils. The Irish have seen positive trends in their last two losses, and categorically controlled both matches against the Hoosiers and Cardinals. Maintaining possession, formation, composure and building up attacks have not been areas of concern for this squad. It was the Irish team’s proficiency in those fields that brought them key conference wins against Virginia and Boston College. Duke will represent the greatest remaining challenge for this team, but that is not to say the Irish have no chance. If the pieces fall in the right way for Notre Dame, they can be competitive with any side in the country. 

With only five matches remaining, two of which are out of conference match-ups, it appears more likely the Irish will not nab a bid into the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament through an at-large selection. The only path for the Irish to return to the bracket now, it would seem, would be to claim the ACC conference championship. Winning that title will require a great shift of momentum for this team and an end to the results that continue to not go Notre Dame’s way. A statement win against a strong team like the Blue Devils could be the perfect catalyst. Head coach Chad Riley and his players certainly hope they can make that sentiment a reality.

The Irish will take the field against Duke on Friday, Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. EDT at a neutral site in Durham, NC. The game will be streamed on the ACC Network.

Contact Adam Akan at aakan@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.