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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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Notre Dame women’s soccer drops first match of the season against Clemson

Notre Dame women’s soccer dropped their first contest of the season, falling on the road to Clemson 2-0 on Thursday.

Proving conference play is always a different beast, the Tigers threw down the gauntlet for Notre Dame early. Just twenty minutes into the match, Sami Meredith got into transition and slotted home the opening goal to draw first blood for Clemson. Meredith’s opener marked the first time all season Notre Dame conceded first in a match.

And though a tightened Irish defense would hold the Tigers without a shot on goal for the remainder of the first half, Clemson would strike again before game’s end. Emily Brough found the back of the net after a ball was played across the box to put Notre Dame away for good.

The Irish did generate a few big chances over the final 30 minutes in a spirited attempt at a comeback, but ultimately the finishing touch just wasn’t there on the road. Most notably, sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert cracked an impressive effort off the crossbar from a distance and graduate student forward Olivia Wingate nearly connected on the ricochet. Wingate would get another chance at goal in the minute 68, driving nearly the length of the pitch with the ball before coming up short on the final conversion. 

The loss drops the Irish to 7-1-0 on the season, but the chance for an immediate rebound looms this Thursday.

The Virginia Cavaliers travel to South Bend on Thursday night, giving Notre Dame a chance to knock off one of the ACC’s top dogs and make a statement heading down the stretch of conference play.

The Cavaliers dispatched No. 2 North Carolina 3-2 in a thriller Saturday night, meaning they’ll presumably arrive at Alumni Stadium on Thursday as a top-five team in national rankings, and definitively the top team in the ACC.

Junior Lia Godfrey has helped lead the way thus far for Virginia, notching four goals as well as three assists from midfield. It was goals from Godfrey, as well as Rebecca Jarrett and Alexa Spaanstra, that helped the Cavaliers charge back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to beat the Tar Heels on Saturday.

The match also stands as a chance for Irish head coach Nate Norman to make a major statement on his resume at Notre Dame. Since his appointment, Norman is 0-13-1 against the ACC’s consistent top tier of UNC, Virginia, Duke and Florida State and 0-19-1 against opponents ranked No. 10 or higher in the coaches’ poll. 

But there are plenty of signs that this could be the year Norman and the Irish break through. Last season, Notre Dame came painstakingly close several times to getting that first win against the ACC’s elite. They dropped three consecutive games against Virginia, Duke and North Carolina, two of which came in overtime and all of which were played on the road. 

A win on Thursday would boost Notre Dame to a top-five ranking and assert the Irish early as an ACC title contender. With a home crowd (Notre Dame is 15-1-1 at Alumni Stadium over the last two years) backing up an impressive squad that has enjoyed their best start to a season in years, Thursday is set to be a marquee matchup for the Irish and their head coach. 

The Irish return home on Thursday Sept. 22 to play Virginia at 7 p.m. EST. The game will be streamed on ACCNX.

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

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Baffour finds back of net with seconds remaining to secure Irish 2-1 victory

After nearly missing out on a tie opportunity in the final minute of a 1-0 loss against Syracuse last weekend, the Notre Dame men’s soccer team bounced back against the University of Virginia in a 2-1 victory Friday night. This win was mostly by virtue of a final second goal off the foot of first-year midfielder KK Baffour.

The Irish remained deadlocked in a scoring standstill with the 4-2 Cavalier team over the opening 45 minutes of play at Klöckner Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia. Despite the mutual shutout throughout the first half, Virginia controlled 58 percent of possession and let fly seven shots on goal compared to just four from the Irish.

The Cavaliers maintained their stranglehold over possession just past the outset of the second half. In minute 68, the Irish produced the match’s first point on a corner kick which trickled into the goal after it was deflected off a Cavalier bystander.

It looked as if the Irish were going to escape with a one-nil victory before Cavalier striker Kome Ubogue poked home the equalizing goal off an in-swinging corner kick in the minute 89.

With less than 40 seconds remaining in the game, Virginia won yet another corner. But sophomore forward Matthew Roou was able to clear the loose ball to Kaffour, who bounded downfield and punched in the game winner with less than 10 seconds remaining on the clock.

Head coach Chad Riley was thrilled at his players’ performance coming off a tough loss to an undefeated Syracuse team.

“It’s an unbelievable message to the team,” Riley said. “You have to keep pushing to the very end and to their credit, [this team] does that.”

“Competing from the first to the last whistle [is] a quality we have,” Riley said. “That’s what we always talk about.”

Coach Riley was very complementarity of the toughness of the UVA soccer program and their fans.

“Virginia is one of the greats in the history of college soccer,” he said. “It was a great environment to test our group, and I felt they stood up to it really well.”

The Cavaliers were hot coming off two victories in which they had put up nine total goals to their opponent’s two.

“Virginia is a very good team. We knew that coming in and playing at home. They are one of the best attacking set piece teams that we’ve played against, and they’ve got really good delivery and a lot of guys that are quite big,” Riley said.

“I was really proud of the way that the group handled [UVA] for the most part. Obviously they got one on us, but the group did a great job making sure that that was the only one,” he said.

The Irish went into the match “just thinking about playing against a good team away from home and seeing if you can get a win,” Riley said. It’s a bonus that UVA will a have a “very high RPI at the end of the year.”

Such hard-fought victories will pay out when it comes time for ACC tournament and College Cup seeding.

The Irish will no doubt be riding high as they come upon a slew of home games against Chicago State, UNC and Boston College.

“It’s all about kind of just growing from game to game,” Riley said.

The Irish’s matchup against Chicago State is a 7 p.m. EST kickoff at Alumni Stadium on Wednesday, Sept. 22.

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu.