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Women’s soccer continues to prove themselves an elite program

When one thinks of Notre Dame’s powerhouse athletic programs, plenty of options come to mind. The football team is an iconic staple of the University’s brand and the fencing team is in the midst of building a modern dynasty. But, there’s one team with a history of success you probably haven’t heard enough about: women’s soccer.

Since the NCAA began holding a women’s soccer national championship tournament in 1982, just four teams have captured three or more titles. Tied for second on that short list of total title winners is Notre Dame, which has seen consistent success spanning the history of the collegiate women’s game. The 1980s were the last complete decade in which the Irish didn’t capture at least one national championship. 

The program’s first came in 1995, when the Irish started their run against North Carolina. At the time, North Carolina had won all but one title. 

“There were only 24 people who thought we could win this game,” said head coach Chris Petrucelli, “and they were all in this locker room.”

The Irish would go on to win a historic 1-0 game. 

“We didn’t come here to beat North Carolina. We came here to win a national championship,” Petrucelli continued. 

And that they did. After the win over the Tar Heels (which ensured an end to a streak of nine consecutive national titles brought home to Chapel Hill), Notre Dame defeated Portland in the final, with three overtimes being required to separate the teams. After a grueling 125 minutes of open play, star midfielder Cindy Mosley (then Daws) fired home a direct free kick to bring a first-ever women’s soccer national championship back to South Bend. 

After an eight-year drought that saw the Irish make four College Cup appearances without a title, Notre Dame captured a second title in 2004. Anchored by a trio of future Canadian internationals in Candace Chapman, Melissa Tancredi and Katie Thorlakson, as well as goalie Erika Bohn, the Irish dispatched a UCLA team in the midst of what would become a streak of seven years of consecutive College Cup appearances. 

Tied 1-1 late into the second half, UCLA drew a penalty kick and had the chance to score a dagger of a late winner. But Bohn rose to the occasion and saved the penalty (the first she had faced all season) to hold a draw that would eventually lead to a shootout. In that shootout, Bohn’s heroics would continue, with the junior saving two more penalties to secure a 4-3 victory. 

Notre Dame’s final national title came in 2010, when the Irish charged into the College Cup as a national 4 seed, upsetting regional 1 seed North Carolina in the process. The string of upsets didn’t stop for the Irish, as Notre Dame dispatched third-seeded Ohio State in the semi-finals before beating the previously undefeated Stanford in the finals. Star forward Melissa Henderson assisted super sub Adriana Leon for the deciding goal in a 1-0 victory. The 2010 title moved Notre Dame women’s soccer to third place in the national title leaderboard among all Notre Dame programs.

The success for the Irish has filtered down to an individual level as well. This year, program alum Shannon Boxx was elected into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, adding one final accolade to a stacked resume. Boxx made over 100 appearances for the Fighting Irish, helping the team to their 1995 national crown. She would then go on to a 17-year professional career in which she established herself as a stalwart at defensive midfield for the United States Women’s National Team. 

In her time with the USWNT, Boxx would capture three Olympic Gold medals and would help the squad win the 2015 World Cup in her final year of soccer before retirement. Amassing 195 total national team caps, Boxx retired as one of the most decorated and consistent players in team history. 

Notre Dame women’s soccer’s relationship with the USWNT doesn’t end with Boxx. Kate Markgraf (then Sobrero) was another member of the 1995 national title squad that would go on to play a major role for her country. In just twelve years of play, Markgraf accumulated over 201 caps, one of just 26 players in international soccer history to play over 200 games for their country.

Markgraf also plays a major role in the play of the modern USWNT, despite being retired since 2010. Hired in 2019 to serve as General Manager of the squad, the 1997 graduate played a large role in replacing longtime USWNT coach Jill Ellis after she stepped down following the 2019 World Cup.

The impact of Irish alumnae on the international women’s soccer game isn’t just limited to the United States either. Melissa Tancredi, All-American defender and captain of the 2004 national championship side, would go on to carve out a major role with the Canadian national team throughout the 2000s and 2010s. 

Playing thirteen years, Tancredi notched 125 caps, and in the process, developed a knack for scoring when it mattered most. As a defender, she scored four goals in the 2012 London Olympics games and two goals in the 2016 Rio Olympics, as Canada captured Bronze in both tournaments.

Her teammate on the 2004 championship side, Candace Chapman, is another Notre Dame alumni to hold a place in Canadian national team history. One year Tancredi’s junior, Chapman also surpassed 100 caps for the Canadian WNT and played alongside her former Irish teammate in defense during Canada’s 2012 Olympic Bronze medal run.

Standing on the shoulders of the program’s historic legacy, the current Notre Dame women’s soccer team looks like perhaps the most likely squad in years to bring a fourth national championship home to South Bend. The Irish have flown through the first weeks of the season, racking up a 5-0 record and the potential for the program’s first perfect non-conference slate since 2008.

An experience-filled core (eight consistent starters hold either senior or graduate student status) has given the team a consistency and remarkable defensive solidity that stands out as impressive, even by Notre Dame’s high standards. The squad has allowed just seven shots on target in 450 minutes of open play. 

In front of that rock-sold defensive unit, the spark has been provided by sophomore Korbin Albert. A dynamic attacking midfielder, with both a keen eye for goal and an impressive passing range to match, Albert has flashed the potential to be Notre Dame’s highest-ever NWSL SuperDraft pick. Her creative talent has supplied a forward duo of senior Maddie Mercado and graduate student Olivia Wingate, whose 9 combined goals have helped the Irish outscore opponents 15-1 through five matches.

With ACC play on the horizon, Notre Dame’s toughest tests still loom in the form of contests against perennial College Cup contenders Florida State, Duke and Virginia. But thanks to the team’s electric start to the season, there is serious buzz surrounding the Irish. For the first time in years, this could be the year the Irish return to their position among the nation’s top teams and compete to add another national title to their stacked historical trophy case.