Oct. 28, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- It would have been easy for the Notre Dame women's soccer team to fold its tents and call it a season after a four-match losing streak earlier this month, a string that included three consecutive one-goal defeats, two coming in double overtime and the third on a score with less than four minutes remaining.
However, quitting has never been part of the vocabulary for the Fighting Irish women's soccer program throughout its storied history, and it certainly wasn't going to be the case in 2013. So it should come as little surprise that Notre Dame found a way to rebound from these setbacks this past week with two convincing wins, taking down Boston College (3-1 on Thursday) and Clemson (2-0 on Sunday) to clinch its first-ever berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship that begins next weekend.
Head coach Randy Waldrum knew his team would go through its share of trials in its inaugural ACC season, but believed the Fighting Irish are better for having faced that challenge.
"After losing three very close, hard-fought games, I was really proud of how we came back and played in our last two," Waldrum said. "We looked more like the team that we all know we can be, and that started with a better overall team mentality. We have really come together in our training the past two weeks and our players have realized the urgency in needing to get back on track at this time of the year."
One of Notre Dame's strengths this season is its midfield play, and last week, the Fighting Irish got plenty of punch from the center of the park, as midfielders had a hand in four of the five Notre Dame goals. Senior midfielder/tri-captain Mandy Laddish (Lee's Summit, Mo./Lee's Summit) and freshman midfielder Morgan Andrews (Milford, N.H./Milford) both picked a goal and two assists in the past two wins, with Andrews having a hand in all three scores against Boston College, while Laddish's second assist of the weekend set up the match-winning goal by freshman forward Kaleigh Olmsted (The Woodlands, Texas/The Woodlands) on Sunday at Clemson.
Add to that the resurgent play at the defensive midfield spot from sophomore Cari Roccaro (East Islip, N.Y./East Islip) and it's clear why Notre Dame has begun to find its stride again.
"Our midfield play with Roccaro, Laddish and Andrews has been outstanding the past two games, and when they are good our entire team plays well," Waldrum said. "I think they had been pressing a bit too much individually for a while, and these past two games, they went back to simplifying their play and letting the game come to them more instead of trying to force things to happen."
The Fighting Irish manager also noted several other players who have raised their level of play of late.
"Katie Naughton and Sammy Scofield continue to play well for us centrally in the back and Kaela Little has been really steady for us in goal," Waldrum said. "It was also nice to get back to scoring some goals these past two games. Kaleigh (Olmsted) continues to be dangerous for us, and Lauren Bohaboy (assist at Clemson) has been giving us some great `hold-up' play as a center forward. Karin Simonian (goal vs. BC) and Crystal Thomas (goal at Clemson) seem to be coming back into form for us as well. We need these players to be dangerous, and in the past two games, we were much more dangerous than the three games before."
Notre Dame was facing Clemson for the first time in women's soccer ... the Fighting Irish are 90-26-2 (.771) all-time in inaugural meetings with opponents, including a 20-13-1 (.603) record in true road matches ... with a goal in each half against Clemson, Notre Dame continues to show remarkable balance in its scoring this season, having tallied 18 goals in the first half and 20 in the second half ... by contrast, the Fighting Irish have allowed only three goals in the first half all season ... Olmsted netted her second career goal on Sunday at Clemson, and her first since the season opener on Aug. 23, when she closed out the scoring in Notre Dame's 4-1 win over No. RV/25 Illinois at Alumni Stadium ... Olmsted's goal at Clemson marked the fifth time this season Notre Dame has scored inside the opening 10 minutes of play, but the first since Sept. 8, when Andrews struck 3:42 into a 4-0 win over Detroit at Alumni Stadium ... sophomore forward Crystal Thomas (Elgin, Ill./Wheaton Academy) potted her third goal of the season Sunday afternoon at Clemson, finding the back of the net for the first time since Sept. 26, when she scored with six seconds left in the first half of a 5-0 win over No. 21/22 Maryland at Alumni Stadium ... freshman goalkeeper Kaela Little (Tulsa, Okla./Bishop Kelley) recorded her fifth solo shutout of the season, and the seventh overall for Notre Dame, as well as the first clean sheet for the Fighting Irish since a 3-0 victory over Pittsburgh on Sept. 29 at Alumni Stadium ... Little's seven total shutouts (five solo/two shared) are the most for a Notre Dame goalkeeper since 2010, when Nikki Weiss had a hand in 15 shutouts (10 solo/five shared) while backstopping the Fighting Irish to their third national championship ... Notre Dame continues its remarkable success when taking a 2-0 lead, improving to 349-0-1 all-time with that advantage, including wins in their last 324 such contests (since a 3-3 draw with Vanderbilt on Sept. 15, 1991, in Cincinnati) ... Waldrum picked up his 397th career win on Sunday at Clemson, giving him a 397-105-29 (.775) record in his 24th season on the sidelines, including a 290-55-17 (.825) mark in his 15 seasons at Notre Dame -- Waldrum needs three victories to become the fifth NCAA Division I coach to reach the 400-win milestone, joining North Carolina's Anson Dorrance (758), Connecticut's Len Tsantiris (511), Florida's Becky Burleigh (415) and Santa Clara's Jerry Smith (405) in that elite club.
FINDING THE IRISH ON TV
Notre Dame will play on the ACC-Regional Sports Networks for the second time this season at 8 p.m. (ET) Thursday when it travels to No. 3 Florida State. The Fighting Irish also played on the ACC-RSN package back on Oct. 13, dropping a last-minute 1-0 decision at No. 10/12 Virginia Tech.
The ACC-RSN package involves coverage on several different regional sports networks, with the following outlets having committed to air Thursday's Notre Dame-Florida State match (all live broadcasts except where noted):
Additional regional affiliates may choose to air Thursday's match. Please CLICK HERE for an updated list of those outlets that will carry the contest.
ACC TOURNAMENT SCENARIOS
The top eight teams in the final ACC standings will qualify for the conference tournament, which gets underway at 1 p.m. (ET) Sunday (Nov. 3) with quarterfinal action at four campus sites. Six of the spots in the tournament have been filled, with Virginia (36 points), Florida State (29), Virginia Tech (28), North Carolina (27), Notre Dame (22) and Duke (18) all punching their ticket for the postseason, and the first four already having clinched home quarterfinal matches. What's more, Virginia is locked into the No. 1 seed, while Notre Dame is guaranteed to be the No. 5 seed when the tournament begins this weekend.
The remaining two slots still are undecided, with seventh-place Wake Forest (17 points) and eighth-place Boston College (16) currently holding the inside track. Maryland (15) and Clemson (14) remain alive, but will need to win Thursday and may also require some help from others to earn a berth.
As for Notre Dame's bracket possibilities, the Fighting Irish know they will play on the road at 1 p.m. (ET) Sunday, but that's the extent of it at this juncture. Their fourth-seeded opponent is still to be determined as two points separate second-place Florida State, third-place Virginia Tech and fourth-place North Carolina, meaning any of those three teams could be Notre Dame's opposition on Sunday. In addition to the Fighting Irish finishing at FSU, Thursday night's other matches involving those top teams will see Virginia Tech at Virginia and North Carolina playing host to Duke.
UP NEXT: FLORIDA STATE
Notre Dame wraps up the 2013 regular season at 8 p.m. (ET) Thursday when it travels to Tallahassee, Fla., to take on No. 3 Florida State at the Seminole Soccer Complex. The match will be televised live on the ACC-Regional Sports Networks (see earlier note for a rundown of regional affiliates that will carry the broadcast), as well as on ESPN3 (some blackout restrictions may apply).
Thursday night's match will be a replay of last year's NCAA Championship quarterfinal between the Fighting Irish and Seminoles in Tallahassee, won by FSU 1-0 on Tiffany McCarty's goal in the 53rd minute.
The Seminoles (14-1-3, 9-1-2 ACC) enter this week's contest following their first loss of the 2013 season, a 1-0 overtime setback at top-ranked Virginia on Sunday afternoon. It was the sixth time this season FSU had gone beyond the full 90 minutes, with the previous five resulting in two wins and three draws.
For more information on the Fighting Irish women's soccer program, follow Notre Dame on Twitter (@NDsoccernews or @NDsoccer), like the Fighting Irish on Facebook (facebook.com/NDWomenSoccer) or sign up for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the main page at UND.com.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director