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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

Irish earn pair of draws behind Little's 13 saves

In two displays of defensive fortitude, the No. 20 Irish battled to earn two draws this weekend in California against Santa Clara on Friday and second-ranked Stanford on Sunday. Both games went to double overtime, and the defense, helped by 13 total saves by senior captain and goalie Kaela Little, held firm to keep the Irish in both games.

“I thought we defended very well in both games,” Notre Dame head coach Theresa Romagnolo said. “I thought we also had chances in both games to win it, but we didn’t convert, but what I loved [about Stanford] was the fight that we showed to come back from being down twice with two quality finishes.”

Senior captain and goalie Kaela Little launches a goal kick on Sept. 4 against Mizzou at Alumni Stadium. The Irish won 1-0.
Senior captain and goalie Kaela Little launches a goal kick on Sept. 4 against Mizzou at Alumni Stadium. The Irish won 1-0.
Senior captain and goalie Kaela Little launches a goal kick on Sept. 4 against Mizzou at Alumni Stadium. The Irish won 1-0.

On Friday night, the team faced off against a Santa Clara team that had been winless through its past four games, and as the game opened the Irish looked to gain a quick advantage. Offensively, however, the team was wasteful, only putting one of eight shots on target. On the other side, Notre Dame’s defense was largely untroubled, as Santa Clara only managed one shot in the first 45 minutes.

In the second half, however, the Broncos began to grow into the game, and Little was called on to make several saves from Santa Clara junior midfielder Jordan Jesolva. The Irish tried to break the deadlock and came close in the 84th minute with a try by freshman forward Jennifer Westendorf, but the effort was saved by Bronco freshman keeper Melissa Lowder.

In overtime, Santa Clara had several good chances to win, but Little played the hero once again, denying Bronco forward Maddie Gonzalez twice in the first period to preserve the draw and the clean sheet.

The Irish returned to the field on Sunday hoping to create some production offensively against the No. 2 team in the nation, who had outscored their opponents 15-3 to start the season. But the game started off poorly for the Irish, as the Cardinal struck first when senior forward Megan Turner scored in the 27th minute to put the Irish down 1-0.

In the second half, Notre Dame came out with a vengeance, and persistence paid off when junior forward Meghan Doyle tied the game up in the 53rd minute off an assist from senior striker and captain Kaleigh Olmsted. It didn’t take long for Stanford to respond, however, as Turner scored again in the 57th minute to put the Cardinal back on top. But Notre Dame’s displayed resilience once again as Westendorf curled a free kick from just outside the box into the net to tie the game at two.

“In the second half we actually switched our system, we played a 4-4-2, and I think we were able to go off of better pressure on the ball earlier up the field, and so we forced them to turn the ball over, and I thought we did a great job of countering,” Romagnolo said. “I thought everybody, to be honest, had a great game and played well defensively. Even in the first half we only allowed two shots, and one was a wonder goal so we were doing a great job of just limiting their opportunities.”

The game was back and forth for the remainder of the 90 minutes, and Little made two huge saves in the last five minutes to send the game to overtime. In the extra periods, Little made two more saves to keep the game alive, and the Irish defense stayed strong to earn the team another hard-fought draw.

After the road trip, Romagnolo was happy with the results, she said.

“It’s great preparation,” she said. “Stanford is second in the country right now so to be able to play that type of game before ACC play is just fantastic, to get that type of experience. I’m really proud of the strides that we’re making. We’re about a month and a week in since we started our preseason, and I just feel like we are making some massive strides. It’s been really fun to see how great our defense has blossomed and how we are really starting to click on offense, so I love where we’re heading. We just have to focus on getting better every day.”