Irish shut out Santa Clara, TCU to reach cusp of College Cup

By J.J. Post and José Sánchez Córdova

It was a dream weekend for Notre Dame women’s soccer, which took a pair of games in the NCAA Tournament on home turf, moving within one win of reaching the College Cup. The party started on Friday night, as the Irish put forth their most dominant showing of the season, steamrolling Santa Clara 4-0 in South Bend.

The Irish got started early, immediately attacking the Bronco net from distance. With midfielder Korbin Albert given an apparent green light to take aim at goal from whenever she deemed fit, the sophomore peppered Santa Clara goalkeeper Marlee Nicolos with shot after shot from distance.

And after nearly 44 minutes of domination on the shot counter but not the scoreboard, Notre Dame broke, through. Some chaos in the box led to graduate student defender Ashley Zugay being dragged down in the box. Albert unsurprisingly took the ensuing penalty, and converted cooly to give Notre Dame a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.

Coming out of the half, the Irish exploded. Albert found a sliver of space at the edge of the box and blasted her second goal of the game by the near post. Just 34 seconds later, freshman midfielder Laney Matriano broke free and uncorked a shot into the corner of the net to put Notre Dame up 3-0 over a seemingly shell-shocked Broncos defense. The goal was Matriano’s first of her collegiate career.

The Irish would find one more goal before full-time, this time off the boot of senior forward Kiki Van Zanten. Albert read a pass in the midfield and charged forward. But this time instead of shooting, she opted to play an incisive through ball across the middle of the Santa Clara defense. The pass found Van Zanten, who beat Nicolos with a neat finish to expand the Notre Dame lead to four.

The 4-0 scoreline was incredibly not nearly indicative of the level of control the Irish enjoyed Friday night. Notre Dame outshot the Broncos by a margin of 40-5, by some distance the gaudiest differential of any round of 32 game. The Irish held possession for nearly the entirety of the second half. Starting Irish keeper, graduate student Mackenzie Wood, made just one save in nearly 80 minutes of action.

The Irish kept rolling on Sunday, beating TCU 2-0 in to advance to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. The win means the Irish make their first national quarterfinal since 2012 and their first under head coach Nate Norman.

“This is always a tough weekend because you play two games so quickly,” Norman said. “It really tests the resiliency and resolve and your ability to recover and how fit and deep you are. That all paid off for us in this game.”

After her meteoric performance against Santa Clara, Albert was relatively quiet Sunday. The Horned Frogs held her to just two shots, with neither being on target. Instead, graduate student forward Olivia Wingate and senior midfielder Maddie Mercado came through for the Irish with a goal each.

“When teams focus so much on taking [Korbin Albert] away it opens up spaces for other players. You saw Maddie and Liv find that space and get those finishes tonight. So, when teams try to crowd her like that, we try and help her move and find space, but it just allows other players a lot more space to play,” Norman said.

Wingate opened the scoring in the 20th minute. After receiving a pass from Van Zanten, she used her signature speed to get into the box and then calmly slot the opening goal into the bottom left corner of the goal. Mercado’s insurance goal came in the 65th minute on a rocket off her left foot that found the far corner from outside the box.

“I looked over my shoulder and didn’t see anyone near me, so I was just like ‘I’m going to go for it,’” Mercado said.

TCU also had their fair share of chances, taking 10 shots. That included one from midfielder Payton Crews that forced an outstanding diving save from Wood in the 29th minute. The shutout means Notre Dame has yet to concede in the NCAA tournament. The Irish have outscored their opponents 11-0 over the first three rounds.

“It’s doing the simple things and doing them often. That way we limit their chances, block shots and keep it tight in the box. If we do all that it’s going to be really difficult for someone to score on us,” Norman said.

The triumph has earned Notre Dame a quarterfinal matchup against the 18-4-1 North Carolina Tar Heels, who beat BYU Saturday to advance. It will be the first meeting between the two teams this year despite the shared conference. And, as the top seed, the Irish will host the showdown next Saturday. UNC shared the ACC regular season title with Florida State but lost to the Seminoles in the ACC tournament final.

“I think we all have a chip on our shoulder going into that game. We’re excited,” Mercado said. “We wanted to see them in ACC play, but figured we’d see them in the tournament. It’s exciting because obviously, they’re a very talented team, but so are we. It’s going to be a big week of preparation and we’re really excited to get after them.”

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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.


Albert scores twice as Irish thrash Wolfpack

Thursday night, Notre Dame soccer moved to 10-2 on the season with a 3-0 win over North Carolina State.

The Irish started off hot, generating a couple of nice early looks at goal before drawing a penalty in the 25th minute. Without senior midfielder and regular penalty taker Maddie Mercado on the field, the duties fell to senior forward Kiki Van Zanten, who made no mistakes sending Wolfpack keeper Maria Echezarreta the wrong way to give Notre Dame the lead.

After resting up at halftime, a refreshed Irish press took control of the game in the second half, limiting NC State to just two shots. It was sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert who provided the insurance, firing home a pair of goals to give Notre Dame a comfortable 3-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. 

The first was one of her best this season, curling the ball into the back of the net from just outside the box. The finish was made more impressive by the fact the sophomore was falling down, celebrating from the ground after the ball hit the back of the net. 

The next came on the back of a setup by graduate student forward Olivia Wingate, who picked up the ball at the halfway line and drove forward, eventually splitting the defense with a pass to Albert.

Albert opted not to shoot the ball on sight, deftly dribbling her way around three Wolfpack defenders to find space and fire home.

After the game Albert noted her transition from midfield to forward helped change her role in the Irish formation, putting her in position to net her first brace of the year.

“Overall when I moved up to the nine, I just knew I had to get the ball, turn and take my space. So either I collapsed the backline so I could play it wide or take the shot by myself.”

Moving forward, the road doesn’t get easier for the Irish. On Sunday, Notre Dame will welcome No. 3 Florida State to South Bend, with the Seminoles representing another crucial hurdle on the path to an ACC title.

Albert, however, focused on the play of the Irish heading into the match, not Florida State.

“I think we’re just going to go out there and play our best,” said Albert. “I think our team, we look at the next game like any other game. We don’t care about what the name is, or who it is. We just want to go out there and play our best.”

Head coach Nate Norman remarked after the game that Notre Dame’s win just weeks ago against No. 2 Virginia could give the team a helpful sense of confidence and composure heading into Sunday’s battle with the Seminoles.

“Hopefully that win gives us a bit of confidence and belief to go into that game, because that’s really just something you need to have when you play against the defending national champions,” Norman said. “They’re just a really good team. But I think for us we showed just so much energy from a defensive standpoint, being able to get the ball moving. We put a lot of pressure on Virginia and that’s something we’ll really try to take into [Sunday].”

With Florida State coming off an impressive 1-0 result against Virginia themselves, they’ll enter Alumni Stadium in impressive form. The defending national champions are still yet to lose this year and now boast statement wins over Virginia as well as an impressive Clemson squad that beat Notre Dame 2-0 in their ACC opener.

The Irish will take on the Seminoles at 12 p.m. on Sunday at Alumni Stadium. The match will be broadcasted on the ACC Network.