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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame heads West for matchups Against No. 1 Stanford, No. 12 Santa Clara

After a hot start to the season for No. 17 Notre Dame, in which they won their first three games while dominating in possession and scoring opportunities, things cooled off a bit in the past week. The Irish (4-2) have lost two of their last three games, those losses coming at the hands of Butler and No. 24 Ohio State. The team now prepares for what may be their toughest test of the season when they head out west for a matchup against reigning national champions and top-ranked Stanford. The match against the Cardinal will be followed by a game against No. 12 Santa Clara.

Coming into the difficult weekend ahead, first-year head coach Nate Norman recognizes his team will need to be prepared and make sure that everyone understands their role.

“I think it’s just making sure that we’re focused, we understand exactly what the formation we’re trying to play is and how to do it, how to attack them and how to put pressure on them,” said Norman. “It’s going to be going over that and making sure it’s clear and concise and that everybody is on the same page.”

Both Stanford (5-0) and Santa Clara (4-1) present a formidable challenge, but the matchup Friday against the Cardinal perhaps stands out even more as it offers Notre Dame an opportunity to knock off the defending champions, a team that is still undefeated to this point in the season. These two programs last met in 2016 when the No. 20 Irish were able to battle to a draw against No. 2 Stanford in Palo Alto, California. Coach Norman knows that if they hope for similar results or better, the team will have to plan specifically for their opponent’s style.

“I think that Stanford is very heavy in the attack, that’s what they want to do as they’ve won [27] games in a row and the last ... national championship, so they do that by becoming very overwhelming in the numbers they push forward and keeping the ball,” Norman said. “For me, that means we have to make sure we apply pressure to them, we’ve got to make them uncomfortable. I think a lot of teams want to sit back, but I think it allows them to get in better and better rhythms.”

”From an attacking standpoint, it’s making sure that when we get the ball, we understand the areas where we can expose them and the areas we can exploit by the ways they attack,” he said.

Santa Clara two days later will be yet another tough test, one the Irish have become a bit familiar with over the past couple seasons. After playing to a 0-0 draw in 2016, the Irish had a scoring surge when the two teams matched up last year, beating the Broncos 4-1. They’ll hope for similar results as the games this weekend wrap up non-conference play for the Irish before a difficult ACC schedule begins. Coach Norman recognizes the importance of heading into conference play on a good note.

“I think it’ll put us in a good rhythm getting into conference play and I think it’ll be a wonderful opportunity,” he said.

The Irish have depth on their roster as four players currently lead the team with four points apiece. They’ll have to find a way to put that depth to good use this weekend if they wish to come out with a positive result.