Oct. 6, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Twenty-one seconds.
That's how far away the University of Notre Dame women's soccer team is from playing on a par with an NCAA Final Four-caliber team.
No. 4 Virginia, responding fiercely after suffering its first loss of the season, stung Notre Dame with a goal at the 89:39 mark of the game to escape the No. 14 Fighting Irish 2-1 Sunday afternoon in an Atlantic Coast Conference showdown.
The victory boosted Virginia to an 11-1-0 record. The Cavaliers, who had a 10-game winning streak snapped in a 1-0 loss at Florida State, are 3-1 in the ACC. The Fighting Irish are 7-4-1 (2-2 in ACC play) and play at Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Notre Dame's defense kept the Fighting Irish tied with the Cavaliers in a scoreless first half. Virginia used its quickness to pepper the Fighting Irish with 11 shots, compared to three by Notre Dame. Virginia ended up with a 19-6 edge in shots.
An All-America move by Virginia's Morgan Brian gave the Cavaliers a 1-0 lead in the 53rd minute. Brian stole a Fighting Irish pass and sprinted to the left side. She juked two Notre Dame defenders with a deke move to the left, then cut back to the right and blasted a shot into the left side of the net.
Notre Dame junior midfielder/tri-captain Cari Roccaro stunned Virginia with a lightning bolt at the 83:59 mark. Roccaro pounced on a loose ball and rifled in a shot from 30 yards away.
Virginia quieted an enthusiastic Fighting Irish crowd at Alumni Stadium when Brittany Ratcliffe scored a rebound shot with 21 seconds left. Notre Dame goalkeeper Kaela Little stopped a wicked shot by Virginia's Makenzy Doniak, but she became caught in a pile-up in front of the goal. The ball ricocheted to the right, and Ratcliffe was there to put it in from eight yards away.
Now, the challenge for the Fighting Irish is to turn a painfully close loss into a springboard to success.
Notre Dame's four losses all could have landed in the win column. Notre Dame lost to No. 16 Texas Tech 2-1. The Fighting Irish held a 1-0 lead, and gave up the winning goal at 46:20. Notre Dame repeated that situation against USC, losing a 1-0 lead and giving up the winning goal at 71:41 in a 2-1 loss. Against No. 9 North Carolina, Notre Dame had a 2-0 lead but fell 3-2 on a goal in the second overtime.
For Roccaro, the answer for the Fighting Irish is finishing games.
"The game isn't over until the clock runs out," Roccaro said. "Our team needs to remember that and play to the end of the game, fight until we're finished.
"I think it's just staying composed and playing the game we've been playing all game, not getting rattled or changing anything we're doing. You have to keep your game plan and don't change anything because of what's happening with the clock. I think that if we just would have kept the game plan and kept the ball up in their half and tried to manage the game a little bit, maybe get a goal ourselves, it could have been different."
Fighting Irish head coach Theresa Romagnolo wasn't pleased with the fight in the Fighting Irish on Sunday.
"I didn't like a lot today," Romagnolo said. "Overall, I'd say we're a very good possession team, and we usually press a team pretty well. We've been getting some people going at the goal. We've had people getting good shots. I was very disappointed with the way we fought. We need to compete, get more physical and get tighter. I thought they pushed us around a little bit today. We need to get tougher."
Notre Dame's needed more fight in the 50-50 battles. Most of the time this season, the Fighting Irish have been the team that wins the ball in those situations. On Sunday, Virginia won the 50-50 skirmishes.
"We learn from this and move forward," Romagnolo said. "Virginia is a Final Four team. Today we saw what we need to do to get there."
-- Curt Rallo, special correspondent