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.

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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.