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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Irish get back to winning ways versus Syracuse

Notre Dame rebounded from a tough loss at No. 3 North Carolina with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Syracuse back home at Alumni Stadium on Friday. Heading into Friday’s match-up, the Irish (8-4-0) had never lost to Syracuse (2-7-2) nor conceded a goal against the Orange at Alumni Stadium, and neither trend would be broken during the 16th meeting all-time between the two sides.

After a September that featured three road games against top-15 opposition, Notre Dame head coach Nate Norman said he was grateful to begin the Irish’s October campaign in the familiar confines of Alumni Stadium.

“I think we’ve had … a handful of road games recently,” he said. “But it’s good to be back home and [in front of a] good crowd. It was fun having the band here tonight. It was a fun atmosphere, so that was really good. Always at home, you’re always a little more comfortable, so [it’s a] good place.”

Allison Thornton | Th
Irish sophomore defender Jade Gosar winds up for a kick during Notre Dame's 3-2 loss against Iowa on Sept. 15 at Alumni Stadium.

Sophomore goalkeeper Mattie Interian was again unable to play due to injury, but Norman emphasized how fortunate the Irish are to have a second starting keeper in the form of senior California native Brooke Littman. Littman has often featured in the Irish goal since her sophomore year and equaled Interian with her sixth appearance of the season. 

“They’re both so solid,” Norman said. “To be honest, Maddie’s got an injury right now, so it’s made that decision easier. … You want to have two great goalkeepers and we do, so we feel very comfortable. … Brooke’s been very solid back there. … She’s confident, she’s mature in what she does, and it’s great to have two fantastic goalkeepers.”

Given their record, the Orange were underdogs heading into Friday’s contest, but the Irish had been given fair warning about the stinginess of the Syracuse back line given their last game. No. 6 Florida State was forced to wait almost 80 minutes before breaking the deadlock against Syracuse, but Notre Dame did not have to endure a similarly nervy affair thanks to an early goal from junior forward Eva Hurm. 

Just under five minutes in, the Irish earned a throw-in near the corner flag on the far side. Graduate student defender Shannon Hendricks took the throw and worked the ball to junior midfielder Sammi Fisher. Fisher, with her back to both defender and goal, seemingly trapped by the end line, flicked a cross over her head in a piece of improvisation that allowed Hurm to head home for her team-leading fifth goal of the season. 

Norman, who had expressed frustration with missed opportunities in previous games, said he was very pleased his side was able to break down the Orange early. 

“[Scoring early] was huge,” he said. “The longer that game goes on 0-0, the more difficult the game gets. [After the goal] Syracuse have to come out a little bit, too, to try to get a goal back, so that certainly helped us.”

After gaining the early advantage, the Irish were uncharacteristically sloppy. Some potentially dangerous giveaways in midfield allowed Syracuse some chances to counter, but the Orange struggled to find the final ball, perhaps unsurprising for a team that had managed to find the back of the net just once in their last eight contests.

Notre Dame reasserted its dominance around the 20-minute mark and failed to score on multiple occasions over a 10 minute period. Much of the play flowed through Hurm on the Irish right, who tormented the Orange all night. Her performance was not lost on Norman.  

“She is so fast and so good running with the ball,” he said. “I feel that [she’s] just such a tough person that … if you’re that outside back and having to deal with her running at you, that’s not a fun game for you. And she was she definitely was on today.”   

Five minutes after the interval, the Irish pressure paid off once more, with Hurm’s hustle forcing an own goal by the Orange. 

A long ball into the Syracuse penalty area by graduate student defender Autumn Smithers only found Syracuse freshman midfielder Kailey Brenner, with no Irish attackers seemingly in her vicinity. Brenner, however, was too pedestrian with the ball in her own box, allowing Hurm to close her down and unleash a low cross. Senior defender Taylor Bennett saw her attempt to block the cross end up in her own net. 

After the second goal, the pace and intensity of the contest settled as it became apparent Syracuse would not be able to find a way back into the game. Sophomore midfielder Luisa Delgado, revinvorgated the Alumni Stadium crowd with a run and strike from distance for her fourth goal of the year. 

After receiving a pass from freshman midfielder Maddie Mercado just over the halfway line, the sophomore from Manhattan Beach, California, went to work. After working her way centrally and bypassing multiple defenders, Delgado caught Syracuse junior goalkeeper Lysianne Proulx slightly off her line with an effort just outside the area that dipped just under the crossbar.

Notre Dame came close to finding a fourth. Hurm was denied by the right foot of Proulx following a nutmeg and cross from freshman forward Kiki Van Zanten in the 70th minute, and a curling effort from sophomore midfielder Nikki Colantuono in the 88th barely cleared the crossbar.

Notre Dame will play host to Miami and No. 19 Louisville on Thursday and Sunday, respectively. Then, another road trip looms, which features top-ranked Virginia and No. 10 Duke in succession. 

Looking ahead, Norman acknowledged the gravity of the upcoming schedule but said he was much more interested in his side’s development. 

“We have Miami and Louisville, which are two very important games for us,” he said. “I think we have to keep growing as a team. We’ve got to keep identifying things that we’re not doing so well, and we’ve got to get better at it. We’ve got to keep doing things that we’re great at even better. I think we have some great attacking players, and we’ve got to keep making sure we’re staying dynamic in attack and [remaining] very sharp defensively as well with our organization and our transition defending which is getting better, which I’m happy to see.”

Kickoff Thursday against Miami is scheduled for 7 p.m. The match will be available to stream on ACC Network Extra.