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Fall in review: Top tri-campus players and performances in 2022

As the fall sports season draws to a close, The Observer awarded this year’s tri-campus All-Fall team, comprised of 11 players from teams across all three campuses. In addition, the Sports staff looked back at some of the top individual and team performances of the season. 

Michael Mayer, Notre Dame football

A PFF All-American, junior Michael Mayer became the Notre Dame tight end record holder in career receptions, yards and touchdowns. This season, Mayer notched 67 receptions for 809 yards and a career-high nine scores. He set season highs against BYU with 11 catches, 118 yards and two touchdowns. He added a second two-score game against USC in the season finale.

Olivia Markezich, Notre Dame cross country

Junior Olivia Markezich polished off a strong fall season with an All-American effort at the NCAA Championships. She finished eighth at the event, improving on her 11th-place finish last year. Markezich added a first-place finish at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional and a top-three finish at the ACC Championships. In the latter, she earned a personal best 19:29.7 time in the 6K.

Daniel Russo, Notre Dame men’s soccer

Junior forward Daniel Russo led the Irish men’s soccer team in both goals (six) and total points (16), tying for the team lead in assists with four. He started 11 games for Notre Dame this season and delivered in big ones. His hat trick against Michigan gave the Irish a pivotal win. And his game-tying strike against Pitt rescued a much-needed draw in the regular season finale.

Colleen McCarthy, Saint Mary’s volleyball

Colleen McCarthy dominated in her sophomore season with the Belles, earning All-MIAA second-team honors. McCarthy notched 321 kills, good for 3.41 per set. She added 309 digs and 28 service aces. Her best game came via a 27-kill performance on Oct. 22 vs. Averett. She led the team in kills and digs and was third in aces.

Joe Alt, Notre Dame football

After usurping the left tackle job last year, Joe Alt has stepped up as the anchor of the Irish offensive line. Alongside Mayer, Alt earned PFF first-team All-American honors. He was second in the country among tackles with a PFF grade of 91.8. His 99.3 pass-block efficiency tied for second among all FBS tackles, and his 90.8 run-blocking grade tied for first. Alt will return as Notre Dame’s left tackle next season. 

Hattie Monson, Notre Dame volleyball

One of the few holdovers on a roster loaded with freshmen and transfers, junior libero Hattie Monson delivered an exceptional season for the Irish. She finished third in the ACC in digs per set, ending the season with a 4.19 mark. Her season-high came against Boston College in a remarkable 27-dig performance. That was during a season-high four-game win streak for the Irish. Monson finished with at least 10 digs in 27 of 28 games this season.

Claudio Fuentealba, Holy Cross men’s soccer

An all-CCAC selection, Claudio Fuentealba anchored the Saints’ defense in 2022, leading them to a conference semifinal berth. He allowed just 0.93 per game while appearing in 18 of Holy Cross’s 19 contests. Fuentealba, a sophomore, earned seven shutouts and notched 53 saves. He earned CCAC player of the week in consecutive weeks and gave up just three goals in the Saints’ final eight games.

Korbin Albert, Notre Dame women’s soccer

A semifinalist for the MAC Hermann trophy, Korbin Albert dominated all season for the Irish and came on in a big way late in the year. The sophomore midfielder played for the U20 national team over the summer, then returned to lead the way for Notre Dame. She led the team with 16 goals and added five assists. Of those 16 goals, 14 came in a ten-game stretch starting on Oct. 6. Albert won ACC midfielder of the year, scored multiple goals on five occasions and delivered a hat trick in the ACC semifinals, scoring three times from long range.

Benjamin Morrison, Notre Dame football

A true freshman cornerback, Morrison cracked the starting lineup after just a few games. Morrison impressed all season, and he began racking up stats in a big way down the stretch. Against No. 4 Clemson, Morrison notched his first two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. Two weeks later, he recorded three picks to end the regular season with five interceptions, the most by an Irish freshman in at least the last 25 years. It was the most interceptions by a Notre Dame player since Manti Te’o picked off seven passes in 2012.

Olivia Wingate, Notre Dame women’s soccer

A dominant goal-scorer all season, graduate student striker Olivia Wingate finished second on the team in goals with 14. She also tied Albert for the lead in assists with five. She more than doubled her career goal total, entering the season with 12 in her previous four seasons. Wingate notched a hat trick early in the year against a ranked Wisconsin team, one of four multi-goal efforts on the season. She added braces against a top-5 Florida State squad and in the NCAA Tournament versus Omaha. Her final goal was a game-winner versus TCU in the Sweet 16. 

Carter Solomon, Notre Dame Cross Country

Solomon became the second Irish runner in ACC championship history to earn the individual title. The sophomore’s 22:55.9 time in the 8K was a personal best and nearly a two-minute improvement from his 2021 effort. Later, at the NCAA championships, Solomon finished 18th, earning a personal best in the 10K of 29:18.8. 

Top Individual Performances

1. Ben Morrison two INT vs. Clemson, 11/5

It’s hard to make the stakes higher than this. The true freshman Morrison came up with a pair of key second-half interceptions. One set up the Irish to take a 21-0 lead against Clemson in the fourth quarter. The second, he returned 96 yards to seal the result, giving the Irish a top-5 victory over the previously unbeaten Tigers.

2. Korbin Albert hat trick vs. FSU, 11/3

Despite Notre Dame ultimately falling in penalty kicks, Albert put together a performance for the ages in the ACC Semifinals. She scored three times, including twice in 27 seconds in the second half. All three strikes came from well outside the box, two with her left foot from about 22 yards out and a 30-yard right-footed missile to open Notre Dame’s scoring in the game. Albert was recently named a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, given to the top male and female college soccer players. 

3. Carter Solomon wins ACC Championship, 10/28

On Oct. 28, Carter Solomon became the second Irish champion in ACC Championship history to claim the individual conference crown, spurring Notre Dame to a fourth-place finish. Solomon blitzed the 8K course in a time of 22:55.9, which was good for the individual title by a mere 0.2 seconds. He went on to earn All-American honors at the NCAA Championships. 

4. Isaiah Foskey 3 sacks, 2 punt blocks vs. UNLV, 10/22

Sitting at 3-3, the Irish desperately needed a big performance against UNLV to get their season back on track. Senior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey delivered with a dynamic effort. Foskey notched a season-high three sacks, which put him back on pace to set the program record, a number he’d achieve on Senior Day. Additionally, Foskey blocked a pair of punts, giving Notre Dame’s offense some short fields in a 44-21 victory.

5. Daniel Russo hat trick vs. Michigan, 10/25

Notre Dame entered a late-season non-conference clash versus rival Michigan needing a win to stay alive in the at-large NCAA Tournament conversation. Down 1-0 with under 30 minutes to play, the hope seemed low. However, junior forward Daniel Russo delivered the best performance of his career, striking for three second-half goals to help Notre Dame beat the Wolverines 3-2. He scored in the 61st minute. Then, after the Irish fell behind again, he scored twice in 1:43, notching the game-winner with under five minutes to play.

Top Team Moments

1. Notre Dame routs Clemson, storms field

In the biggest win of their season, Notre Dame upset unbeaten Clemson for the second time in three years, 35-14. Sophomore running backs Logan Diggs and Audric Estime combined for 218 yards on the ground, with Estime scoring a touchdown. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne threw for a score and ran for another. The Irish also scored on both defense and special teams, punctuating their victory with Benjamin Morrison’s second interception, a 96-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter. 

2. Irish women’s soccer upsets top-5 UVA

After a 7-0 record in non-conference play, the Irish lost to Clemson in their ACC opener. They entered a battle with No. 2 Virginia. Head coach Nate Norman had never won a top-10 game in his tenure with the Irish. But that changed on Sept. 22. The Irish dominated the Cavaliers in the field of play and eventually found the winner in the 76th minute, courtesy of senior midfielder Maddie Mercado. Notre Dame won, 1-0. The Irish went on to later beat another top-5 opponent, Florida State, later in the year.

3. Saints’ men’s soccer hosts first-ever CCAC quarterfinal, dominates

The Holy Cross Saints men’s soccer squad earned a program-first this fall, hosting a first-round CCAC playoff matchup. They earned the No. 4 seed in the tournament, their first top-four ranking in team history. That brought in a matchup with fifth-seeded Judson, and the Saints outclassed the visitors. Senior midfielder Elmin Ejup scored twice, including 87 seconds into the match on a free kick. The Saints dominated Judson, winning 3-0 to advance.

4. Notre Dame women’s soccer earns first No. 1 seed in 14 years 

For the first time in 14 years, Notre Dame women’s soccer earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Irish didn’t lose after Sept. 25 and went 4-1-3 against top-25 teams. That included a 4-0 win over ACC champion Florida State. Notre Dame also won a series of postseason awards, headlined by ACC Coach of the Year (Nate Norman), midfielder of the year (Korbin Albert) and defenseman of the year (Eva Gaetino). The Irish went on to dominate three straight NCAA Tournament games, outscoring a trio of opponents 11-0, before falling in the Elite Eight.

5. Notre Dame men’s soccer buzzer-beating win over UVA

In their best win of the 2022 season, the Irish went on the road against Virginia and found a last-gasp winner, courtesy of freshman KK Baffour. With the score tied 1-1, sophomore forward Matthew Roou gained possession off a late Virginia corner kick and played a through ball to Baffour. The freshman went 1-v-1 with the keeper and found the back of the net for the Irish win. It was Virginia’s only ACC loss of the season.

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College Cup hunting: Irish face storied rival in Elite Eight

Notre Dame women’s soccer will look to advance to its first College Cup since 2010 Saturday night when they take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in South Bend.

The Tar Heels and Irish matchup is one of the most storied rivalries in women’s college soccer history. The two teams have played in the NCAA final no less than five times and in the semi-finals three more times. 

But Saturday’s showdown will be a rekindling of a rivalry that, at least on the stage of the national tournament, had since fallen dormant. Notre Dame hasn’t played UNC in the national postseason since 2010, coincidentally the last time the Irish captured the national championship.

As one would imagine from a program that historically has not only been the gold standard but the only standard for women’s college soccer, the 2022 edition of the Tar Heels represents Notre Dame’s toughest test of the season thus far. 

Junior Avery Patterson headlines a stacked North Carolina squad, with the versatile “midfielder” capable of lining up just about anywhere on the field as needed. Patterson leads the Tar Heels in goals and is tied for the team lead in assists, underlying the impact she has on the team from her wingback role. 

Redshirt freshman Ally Sentnor leads the line, with nine goals on the season to her name. She’s partnered with veteran senior Isabel Cox, who brings four years of experience in Anson Dorrance’s system to the table.

Tori Hansen anchors the defense, with the senior Raleigh looking like a surefire pick in the upcoming NWSL draft. Hansen offers a physical presence in the air at 5’10’’, but more importantly, will be leaned on to organize and lead an unconventional three-at-the-back Tar Heel defensive structure that requires perfection in chemistry to operate at its best. Hansen, who also has an impressive seven goals to her name, has hardly ever left the field for UNC this season, having played nearly 1,981 minutes. No other player on the roster, including starting goalkeeper Emmie Allen, has played more than 1,800.

Hansen and co. will likely also be facing their toughest task of the season in containing Notre Dame sophomore Korbin Albert. Albert has vaulted her way into pole position for the Mac Hermann award down the stretch of the 2022 campaign, dropping statement performances against Florida State in the ACC semifinals and Santa Clara in the Round of 32. 

TCU was able to have some success in Notre Dame’s Sweet Sixteen victory man-marking Albert. However, that strategy allowed space for Irish graduate student forward Olivia Wingate and senior midfielder Maddie Mercado. Both grabbed a goal apiece in a 2-0 win. 

The one thing the Irish will have going for them in their quest to return to Cary for the College Cup is the home-field advantage they’ve defended all season. The Irish have only lost one game at home this year, and Sunday’s win over TCU boosted the program to a staggering 47-2-1 record in South Bend in November. While Saturday’s weather forecast doesn’t call for the tundra-like snow and chill of last weekend, Notre Dame is most comfortable in front of its home fans and will look to build off that boost against the Tar Heels.

Notre Dame will take on North Carolina at 5 p.m. Saturday at Alumni Stadium. The match will be broadcasted on ESPN+.

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

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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.”

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

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsach24@nd.edu.

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Irish dominate Omaha to start NCAA Tournament strong

Notre Dame women’s soccer cruised by Omaha 5-0 Saturday, advancing to the NCAA tournament round of 32.

Three early goals put the Irish in control early. Sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert opened the scoring just six minutes in. Though Notre Dame was initially stymied by Omaha’s deep 4-5-1 block, Albert’s affinity for finding the back of the net proved an effective tool in breaking down the Maverick defense.

After Albert’s curled opening tally, Omaha’s defensive solidity weakened considerably. In the eighth minute, a searching cross from graduate student defender Brianna Martinez sailed across the goal untouched. Forward Olivia Wingate tapped it home to double the score. 

Wingate would then double up just moments later. Senior midfielder Maddie Mercado took a shot that deflected into her path just a few feet away from the net. The graduate student made no mistake, giving the Irish a commanding 3-0 lead before the 10-minute mark.

Following Wingate’s second goal, with the match comfortably in Irish control, the scoring touch mostly dried up for Notre Dame. The Irish continually generated shots — 26 to be exact. But they wouldn’t find the back of the net until late in the second half.

Mercado would then get her first of the contest, marking the senior’s first goal since Oct. 9. Mercado’s goal was perhaps the best of the afternoon as well, as she bent the ball into the top corner of the net from distance.

Notre Dame would get one more for additional emphasis before the game’s end thanks to Paige Peltier. The junior forward added her first career goal with five minutes remaining in the contest, heading home a corner from graduate student defender Ashley Zugay.

After the game head coach Nate Norman credited Albert’s early goal for helping the Irish take control of the game from the start.

“Getting the early goal was everything to set the tone,” Norman said. “I think in these types of games, these first-round games, you want to get all over [the opposition.] They’re coming into the game, trying to build confidence as the game wears on, and I think to get that early goal deflates them and doesn’t allow them to get any comfort in the game.”

Norman also discussed how his team looked more experienced in their first NCAA tournament game compared to last year’s run, which had been the longest in his tenure as Irish coach.

“That run last year obviously ended before we wanted it to, it created that hunger,” Norman said. “Just having that experience, what it feels like, the emotions going into the game. Even having someone like [graduate student forward] Kristina [Lynch] here too, she’s won two national championships, and it’s really crucial to have someone like that in our group as well.”

With the win, Notre Dame advances to meet Santa Clara in the round of 32 Friday night. The Broncos will mark a tough test. A College Cup team last year, Santa Clara also features the nation’s second-leading scorer in Izzy D’Aquila. Kickoff will be at 6 p.m. at Alumni Stadium. The match will be televised on the ESPN family of networks.

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

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Irish set to face Omaha, begin College Cup run

This Saturday Notre Dame women’s soccer will look to start their run to the College Cup when they welcome Omaha to Alumni Stadium.

The Mavericks present an interesting opening foe for the Irish in their quest for a title. Hailing from the Summit League, their championship performance (a 0-0 draw against Oral Roberts decided by penalties) certainly doesn’t pop off the page as a team that would stun one of the four #1 overall seeds in the tournament. But what does catch the eye on their resume is their willingness to test themselves against power five opposition in non-conference matchups.

Over the course of nine non-conference matchups to start the season, Omaha faced off against five power five opponents. And while the results weren’t stellar (posting a 0-4-1 mark), the Mavericks did show some solid signs. In their season opener, Omaha actually took an early lead against Oklahoma State, but a second-half comeback brought the Cowgirls to victory. The Mavericks also drew Missouri, before ending their power five swing on a three-game losing streak to Colorado, Minnesota and Iowa State.

Notable in those five games was Omaha’s solid defense. According to InStat, against Oklahoma State and Missouri, Omaha held their opposition to less than one xG (expected goals) for the match.  Against Iowa State, despite the gaudy 4-1 scoreline, the Mavericks held the Cyclones to just 1.56 xG.

Quality defense has been a theme for this Omaha team in the postseason. During their three-game run in the Summit League conference tournament, the Mavericks didn’t concede a single goal. The run included an upset over second-seeded South Dakota State. The win was notable due to the fact that the regular season contest between Omaha and South Dakota State ended in a 3-0 rout for the Jackrabbits.

Against the Irish, expect Marissa Gohr to be pulling the strings in the Maverick attack. According to InStat, the redshirt sophomore leads the team in both chances created as well as key passes. She’s also one of five different Omaha players tied for second on the team with goals scored with two.

Emilie Erland leads the Mavericks in goals. Her third goal of the season helped her squad claim victory over North Dakota in the Summit League quarterfinals. The midfielder can progress the ball as well, as she’s one of the best dribblers on the team in terms of both volume and efficiency. 

For Notre Dame, the gameplan remains simple- play through sophomore standout midfielder Korbin Albert. Albert has been unconscious over the course of the back half of the season so far, exploding for 11 goals in the squad’s final eight games. The most impressive of her performances was the most recent —a hattrick against Florida State in the ACC semi-final — in which Albert produced all three Irish goals in a 3-3 draw with long-distance strikes.

How Omaha is able to contain Albert, both as a goal scorer and a chance creator will likely dictate the competitiveness of the game. If they’re able to key in on the sophomore and force Notre Dame to run their offense through other means, the Mavericks stand a chance of eking out another close win or their second straight penalty shootout. If Albert is able to break free and pull the strings for the Irish attack, it figures to be a long day for the Summit League champs.

Notre Dame will take on Omaha at 2 p.m. Saturday at Alumni Stadium in South Bend. The match will be broadcasted on the ACC Network.

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Albert scores three, but Irish drop ACC semis to Florida State

Thursday night Notre Dame fell to Florida State in the ACC tournament semifinals, losing 4-2 on penalty kicks after a 3-3 draw.

The game got off to an action-packed start, with two goals coming in the first fifteen minutes. It was the Seminoles who opened the scoring, with Clara Robbins powering a header past graduate student keeper Mackenzie Wood in the 13th minute.

But just moments later the Irish would find an equalizer. Sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert picked up the ball and raced into space before unleashing an ambitious effort from nearly thirty yards out from goal. But the distance proved to be well within the ACC Midfielder of the Year’s range. Albert found the side of the net to tie the game back up at one. 

The tie score wouldn’t last until the end of the half though. Onyi Echegini controlled a high ball played into the box, but was tripped by junior defender Eva Gaetino when she turned to face goal. Florida State received a penalty kick, which Heather Payne dispatched cleanly to give the Seminoles a 2-1 lead heading into the break.

Albert stuns Seminoles with two quick goals

Albert would quickly erase that deficit in the second half. Flicking the ball around a defender, the sophomore unleashed an excellent looping strike in the 57th minute to tie the game up once again.

And it would be less than a minute after her equalizer that the sophomore would strike again. Once again taking aim from long shot range, Albert once again found the top corner. Florida State goalkeeper Cristina Roque didn’t even move for this third strike.

But the Albert-inspired lead wouldn’t hold. Florida State would find an equalizer of their own in the 73rd minute, thanks to Emma Bissell. Mackenzie Wood was able to get a punch to a dangerous Seminole cross, but her effort fell to Bissell, who easily tapped a finish into a now-empty net. 

But after Bissell’s equalizer, the goals would dry up for both sides. Plenty of chances came both Florida State and Notre Dame’s way over the final fifteen minutes and ensuing 20 minutes of overtime. However, neither side could find the finishing touch. And for the second time in as many games for the Irish, their ACC tournament fate would be decided by penalty kicks.

Naylor’s save not enough as Irish lose shootout

This time, Notre Dame found themselves on the losing end. Ashley Naylor, who subbed in for Mackenzie Wood like she did against Pittsburgh, got the Irish off to a strong start as she saved Florida State’s opening attempt. But Roque immediately saved Maddie Mercado’s effort.

Tied at zero through one round, the teams then traded a pair of makes. The Irish goals came off the boots of Albert and senior forward Kiki Van Zanten. But in the fourth round, after a make from Florida State’s Ran Iwai, senior defender Waniya Hudson misfired for the Irish. With the advantage now firmly sitting with the Seminoles, midfielder Jenna Nighswonger fired home to clinch victory.

Notre Dame will now wait until Sunday to discover their seeding for the upcoming NCAA tournament. Current bracket calculus would make it seem the Irish are destined for a national two seed, with their path to the College Cup likely going through any of Tallahassee (Florida State), Chapel Hill (North Carolina), Los Angeles (UCLA) or Tuscaloosa (Alabama).

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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 roll No. 3 Seminoles, 4-0 in statement win

On Sunday afternoon, Notre Dame women’s soccer notched a massive victory in their quest for an ACC title, taking down No. 3 Florida State 4-0 at Alumni Stadium.

The Irish started off hot thanks to sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert, who picked the pocket of a Florida State defender before charging in on net for a clinical one-on-one finish. And then less than five minutes later, Olivia Wingate ripped a shot from just outside the 18 yard box that found the back of the net.

Down 2-0 within the opening ten minutes, Florida State struggled to regroup over the remainder of the first half. The Seminoles earned a penalty three minutes after Wingate’s goal, but Jenna Nighswonger fired wide. Seemingly shaken by the deficit and the missed chance, Florida State struggled to connect in the midfield for large stretches of the first half. Notre Dame entered the break with a two goal advantage that matched their largest halftime lead of the season so far.

Head coach Nate Norman noted the hot start helped the team set the tempo for the rest of the match:

“I think every game we talk about the need to come out with a tremendous amount of energy and get after teams,” said Norman. “We thought that if we can just win the ball then we can go at them as quickly as possible. Obviously getting those two goals was great. It put us on the right foot, and we carried that on the rest of the game. I’m very proud of them.”

The Irish kept the momentum rolling in the second half. Racking up eight shots to Florida State’s five coming out of the break, Notre Dame finally cashed in after 25 minutes thanks to Maddie Mercado. Though she was kept out of the starting lineup by injury, the senior made her mark on the game off the bench, firing home a Wingate cutback. Wingate would go on to add a second goal to her tally to cap off the rout ten minutes before the final whistle, racing behind the defense and confidently slotting home a close range finish. 

The win was a crucial triumph in both a short and long view for the program. For one, the victory represented a historic level of dominance for Notre Dame. The Irish hadn’t beaten a top-three opponent by a margin of four or more goals since 2000.  

But in the context of this season, the Irish now own a pair of victories over top three opponents at home. As a result, Norman and co. find themselves in the thick of an ACC title race despite a pair of tough losses to Pitt and Clemson. 

Junior centerback Eva Gaetino, who leads a defense that hasn’t conceded a goal since Sept. 25th, noted that the team has undergone a mentality shift since the 2021 season where Notre Dame was defeated three times in overtime by opponents ranked in the top ten.

“There is 100% a mentality difference,” Gaetino said. “Going into some of those games, it felt like everything would have to go perfectly and then we’d need a little bit of luck to win. But going into these games, if we do what we do and we do it right, we will win these games. And that’s what I think we showed today.”

Gaetino also noted that going forward the team would need to continue to hold firm mentally with their big win emboldening Notre Dame’s opponents as much as the team:

“[We have] more confidence. But I also think there’s a beaming red target on our backs now that we have beat these top three teams. I think [for some teams], we’re going to be their biggest game of the year, when previously we might not have been. I think we just need to have the humility to know that every game from here on out is going to be a battle, and we’re going to have to bring it every single game.” 

Notre Dame women’s soccer will now enter a three game road gauntlet over the next two weeks, traveling to Louisville, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. If the Irish can make it through those next three games unscathed, they could play for an ACC title in their final game of the season against No. 7 Duke.

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

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Sports

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.

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Sports

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.