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Irish women’s soccer looks to rebound against Eagles

Notre Dame women’s soccer takes on Boston College Thursday for its third ACC conference game of the season. The Irish are seeking to balance their ACC record after a loss to Pitt at home left them 1-2 in ACC play. After going 7-0 in non-conference play, the Irish have faced more difficulty against ACC teams. The game against Boston College is a chance for the team to redeem its record after the disappointing 3-1 loss to Pitt last Sunday.

At its best, the women’s soccer team is certainly capable of competing with the nation’s best talent; just last week the Irish beat the University of Virginia, at the time the second-ranked team in the country. However, the team has struggled to keep up this quality of play against other high-level opponents. The Irish have performed inconsistently in ACC play thus far, losing to Clemson in their first conference game of the season in addition to the recent loss against Pitt. Notre Dame head coach Nate Norman acknowledged this inconsistency when he said, “Some days are not your best and you figure out ways to grind it out.” 

The ACC is arguably the best conference in women’s soccer, boasting seven teams ranked in the top twenty-five by ESPN. As a result, conference play will not get any easier for Notre Dame. The Irish need to figure out how to consistently compete at a high level as they start to face tougher opponents if they want to maintain their spot in the national rankings.

The game against Boston College should provide Notre Dame with an opportunity to score a conference win. Boston College is currently 4-4-3, and have lost all three of their ACC games so far. And, Notre Dame will be their fourth ranked opponent in a row. The Irish will try to take advantage of the Eagle’s exhaustion after their recent tough schedule to pick up another conference win. Boston College does have the home advantage, but so far they haven’t had much luck on their own pitch. The Eagles are currently 2-2-2 at home, including a dramatic 0-6 loss to Florida State. Conversely, Notre Dame has yet to lose an away game against an unranked opponent. 

However, Notre Dame may be at a disadvantage this Thursday depending on the injury status of junior center back Eva Gaetino. Gaetino missed the second half of the game against Pitt due to a head injury, and it is unclear when she will return to play. Norman said after the game that he doesn’t have a timeline of her recovery yet. Losing Gaetino mid-game hurt Notre Dame’s performance in the second half against Pitt. Norman stated that losing Gaetino forced him to “really shuffle things around.” The Irish were unable to hit their stride again after she unexpectedly exited the game.

The Irish travel to Boston for the game, which starts Thursday at 6 p.m. EST. It will be broadcasted on the ACC network.

Contact Sammie McCarthy at smccart9@nd.edu.

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Late goal leads Irish to crucial victory over No. 2 Virginia

Notre Dame took home a landmark win Thursday night, dispatching No. 2 Virginia 1-0 in South Bend.

The win cements the Irish as one of the favorites in a competitive race for an ACC title. It comes against a Cavaliers team that had just defeated previous conference top dog North Carolina. The victory was Nate Norman’s first victory over a top-ten team in twenty one tries as Notre Dame’s head coach.

The pregame rankings couldn’t have been less indicative of how the game played out. Notre Dame asserted themselves early, showing complete comfort in their preferred 3-5-2 formation that struggled the game prior in Clemson. A couple of early chances fell to forward Olivia Wingate. But the graduate student was unable to convert and the teams entered the half tied.

In the second half, the Irish ramped up their pressure and got a goal to show for it. Outshooting the Cavaliers 11-5, Notre Dame seemed emboldened by their strong first half and continually threatened Cayla White in net. 

And while White held her ground for 75 minutes, the Irish eventually broke through on a set piece scramble in front of the goal. A corner kick by sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert found the head of junior midfielder Eva Gaetino, whose deflected header fell perfectly for senior forward Maddie Mercado. Mercado acted quickly, swiping the ball past White and into the back of the net with her first touch.

The final 15 minutes produced plenty of stressful moments for Notre Dame. Head coach Nate Norman made a slew of changes to add defensive stability and fresh legs to the field. But ultimately, the Irish held strong to close out the win. In a mark of an excellent defensive showing, graduate student goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood was only forced to make one save all game, notching her first career ACC clean sheet.

Despite being the lone goal scorer on the night, Mercado was quick to spread the praise for the teams overall performance.

“This team deserves all the recognition,” Mercado said. “One thing we said in the locker room was we wanted to go out like we were possessed, and I think we did that and more. I was there to finish but our team got us there, got us the corner, Gaetino got the header, and I turned and finished. So just a great team win.”

Coach Norman also gave credit to the team’s mentality, as the Irish rallied to the win within a week of a disappointing loss to Clemson in their ACC opener.

“We asked the team before the game to value certain things … I just felt like our energy levels and passion today was such a stark contrast from Thursday to now,” said Norman. “I’m just so proud of how [the team] fought and competed. We needed a game like that to prove to ourselves that we could compete with anyone and tonight was a really good night for us to do that.”

Looking ahead, Notre Dame’s ACC slate seems much more manageable with a win over Virginia under their belt. Tests against Florida State and Duke still loom. But Norman expressed excitement that Thursday’s win could be something of a statement of intent to opposing teams.

“We have a really simple goal,” Norman said. We want to win a national championship. And hopefully a win like this puts us in the conversation, puts us in the group that can do that. We just have to continue on and have some consistency.”

Notre Dame will look to build off their major win with another home clash against Pittsburgh looming Sunday. The game will kick off at 1 p.m. at Alumni Stadium. It will be broadcasted on the ACC Network.

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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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Irish beat Ohio, remain undefeated ahead of ACC opener

Irish sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert dribbles the ball during Sunday’s 3-1 win over Ohio at Alumni Stadium.

Notre Dame women’s soccer beat the Ohio University Bobcats 3-1 Sunday afternoon in a rain-soaked affair at home to remain a perfect 7-0 on the season. It is the team’s first perfect run in nonconference play since 2008 when they went 27-2 and made an appearance in the NCAA title game.

The weather conditions were a concern on Saturday afternoon with a steady downpour throughout the match, especially during the first half. Head coach Nate Norman spoke about how the conditions impacted his team.

“It wasn’t ideal, but today we went out trying to do what we always do,” said Norman. “It made the field very fast and slick, so if your passes aren’t perfect or if your first touch isn’t great then the ball slips away from you, but overall we just tried to stay with what we do.”

The game got off to a fast start when Notre Dame used some clever passing to break through the Ohio backline, graduate student striker Olivia Wingate scored her team-leading sixth goal of the year. Senior Kiki Van Zanten collected her second assist of the year on the opener.

Wingate has found extraordinary success at Alumni Stadium this year with all six of her goals coming at home this year, including the hat-trick performance against then-No. 22 Wisconsin on September 1 that earned her ACC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

In the 21st minute, Bobcats star forward Abby Townsend stepped up and buried a free kick from just a few yards outside the box to tie up the game on Ohio’s second shot of the game. Townsend’s strike came from the right side of the goal and curled perfectly around the Irish wall and to find the top corner and beat goalkeeper Ashley Naylor.

Norman emphasized the importance of sticking to the game plan and executing it following Ohio’s equalizer.

“I think it’s always about us being able to focus and that’s what we told them at halftime,” said Norman. “There’s nothing really we need to do differently. We just need to keep the tempo high, keep moving the ball, keep finding those pockets of space in their backline, driving at them and getting our chances.”

That is exactly what the Irish did in the second half as they found two more goals to put the contest to bed.

The first came from Van Zanten shortly after halftime. The goal came from a Kati Druzina cross that Ohio keeper Sam Wexell deflected into the middle of the box where Van Zanten was able to finish it into the bottom corner of the goal. The game-winner was Van Zanten’s second goal of the year after she also scored against Purdue last time out.

After the game, Coach Norman spoke glowingly about Van Zanten’s performance on the day and throughout the season.

“Kiki is fantastic. She’s been unbelievable this whole season. Her defensive work rate is second to none, she covers so much ground, winning second balls,” said Norman. “And some of the stuff she does going forward is fantastic. She’s got two goals in the last two games so she’s in a really good place right now. I’m super, super happy and proud of her.”

Throughout the game, junior midfielder Eva Gaetino looked dangerous on corners with a few efforts just missing the Ohio goal, but four minutes after Van Zanten’s goal she made one count. Coming off a Korbin Albert corner, Gaetino rose highest of all to head it home making it 3-1.

Gaetino said after the game that the goal was the result of many hours of practice.

“These past three weeks [we]…have been working on it just over and over and over again, every single day, just getting the timing down. That’s been a huge help and I feel like I’m finally getting the momentum to get that going every single game,” said Gaetino.

Outside of the set-piece hiccup, the Irish dominated proceedings, controlling the game for long spells of play. In the end, they out-possessed the Bobcats 69%-31% and outshot them 28-8, forcing 7 seven saves from their goalkeepers.

Gaetino spoke about the importance of humility for Notre Dame as they start conference play on the road against the Clemson Tigers this Thursday.

“I’m really proud of us, we’re doing something very special. We set a goal for ourselves and so far, we’ve been able to accomplish it. But going 7-0, we also have to stay humble and we have to understand that these [conference] games are going to be hard. But I also think that these wins have given us momentum going into these tougher games, which I think will be really good for us,” said Gaetino.