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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Irish seek crucial win against Wake on Senior Night

Senior Night is always a special occasion, but this year, Notre Dame’s regular season finale at Alumni Stadium Thursday night will be of particular importance, as Wake Forest (6-7-4) travels to take on the Irish (9-6-2) on the final day of ACC play.

While the Demon Deacons are no longer competing for a spot in the postseason, Notre Dame enters the contest hanging on to the eighth and final spot in the ACC tournament. The Irish sit level on points with ninth place Virginia Tech, who travel to Pitt on Thursday but hold a crucial advantage in the tiebreaker of goals scored in conference play. 

In addition to the opportunity to rise as high as sixth in the ACC standings, a win on Thursday night would also bolster the Irish’s relatively strong case for an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame currently ranks a respectable 37th in RPI. However, a strong performance at home would certainly help Notre Dame’s cause, especially with a difficult trip to either North Carolina, Florida State or Virginia on the horizon if the Irish qualify for the ACC tournament. 

Recent history suggests the Irish should be able to take care of business at home, especially against an unranked ACC foe. The Irish have not conceded in conference play this year at Alumni Stadium, earning four shutout victories and playing to a scoreless draw against No. 14 Louisville. 

On the road, however, the Irish have struggled mightily this season and have failed to win away from home in ACC play this year.

Last week, the Irish played two away matches against Duke and North Carolina State respectively. The Irish began their road trip last Thursday in Durham, North Carolina, securing a 1-1 draw despite a strong second-half effort. After falling behind in the first half after an unfortunate deflection, the Irish played virtually the rest of the game in the Blue Devils’ half, dominating possession and forcing constant turnovers with their characteristic high press. The Irish would eventually equalize against one of the nation’s statistically best defenses after sophomore Olivia Wingate was slipped in by a wonderful nutmeg assist from the back-heel of freshman Erin Honstein.   

However, Notre Dame couldn't find any rhythm on offense this past Sunday in Raleigh against NC State and suffered a disappointing 3-0 loss. The Irish, who outshot the Wolfpack, will hope to be more clinical in front of goal heading into the postseason, as they have managed just a .129 shot percentage this season. 

Irish junior midfielder Sammi Fischer maintains possession of the ball during Notre Dame’s 3-2 loss to Iowa on Sept. 15 at Alumni Stadium. The Irish are 9-6-2 overall on the season.
Irish junior midfielder Sammi Fischer maintains possession of the ball during Notre Dame’s 3-2 loss to Iowa on Sept. 15 at Alumni Stadium. The Irish are 9-6-2 overall on the season.

Notre Dame’s attack, however, has been dynamic and multifaceted. Sophomore and joint-top scorer Eva Hurm has tormented fullbacks on the right wing while Wingate has done the same on the left. Sophomore midfielder Luisa Delgado has scored four goals of her own and also shares the team lead in assists with junior midfielder Sammi Fisher. The team leader in total points with 14, she equaled Hurm’s total of five goals by completing a second-half hat-trick in just 12 minutes against Miami.

Fisher’s heroics after the break were indicative of a larger theme for the Irish this year. While head coach Nate Norman’s squad has been outscored by opponents 10-7 in the first half, the Irish have scored 20 goals and have conceded just seven after halftime. 

While the Demon Deacons have won only one of their last 11 fixtures, the Irish will have to halt the prolific striking partnership of Hulda Arnarsdottir and Hayley Younginer if they hope to earn their sixth consecutive clean sheet at Alumni Stadium. Arnarsdottir, a redshirt sophomore hailing from Reykjavik, Iceland, leads her team with seven goals, while grad student Younginer has chipped in with six goals and three assists of her own.

Notre Dame’s defense, however, has conceded just one goal a game on average and will be able to rely on plenty of experience on Senior Night.  

Graduate student defender Autumn Smithers, a transfer from USF, has been featured in every game this season and tallied a brace to lead the Irish to a 2-1 victory over Western Michigan in late August. Senior goalkeeper Brooke Littman largely backed up sophomore Mattie Interian at the beginning of the year, but has filled in more than adequately after Interian picked up an injury and currently sits second among goalkeepers in the ACC with six shutouts. 

Two senior midfielders will also be honored on Senior Night. Defensive midfielder Alexis Martel Lamothe of Ottawa, Ontario, has made two consecutive starts and has managed one goal in her 11 appearances this season. Megan McLaughlin, a native of nearby Granger, Indiana, has earned seven caps so far this year. 

Kickoff on Thursday is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be available to stream on ACC Network Extra.