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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame women’s soccer survives regular season finale vs. Wake Forest

Notre Dame women’s soccer came away with a vital win Thursday night, as the Irish took down the visiting Wake Forest Demon Deacons 2-1. 

It was the Irish who opened the scoring early on as they prefer to do, with leading goalscorer Sammi Fisher slotting home a simple one-on-one chance after a nice through ball from Olivia Wingate in the 20th minute.

But after the goal, things got shakier. A strong Wake Forest attack, perhaps emboldened by the fact that they had already clinched a bid to the ACC Tournament, continually peppered goalkeeper Ashley Naylor’s net and kept the pressure high on the Irish midfield and defense. 

And eventually, they were rewarded. In the 70th minute, Sophia Rossi got her foot to a loose ball in a few yards of space, and her deflected shot found the far bottom corner of the net. Wake wasn’t done yet either, as they’d force Naylor into several difficult but crucial saves in the minutes following the goal as momentum swung the Deacons’ way.

But it was Notre Dame who would strike last on a night where quality Irish chances seemed sparse. Maddie Mercado swung in a corner kick, and her delivery was misjudged by Wake Forest goalkeeper Kaitlyn Parks, leading to the ball briefly crossing the goal line for an Irish winner. Wake Forest would test Naylor a few final times before the whistle blew, but in the end the sophomore keeper was equal to everything thrown at her.

After the game, Naylor spoke on the thrilling win as well as the team’s remaining schedule.

“I feel really good,” she said. “It was super exciting to win, especially on senior night, and in the last game of the regular season. We get to host an ACC tournament game and play again on Sunday. So a super great game.”

Naylor also talked about how Notre Dame’s road trip against three top-10 teams in the last two weeks helped her and the team develop.

“Those games are definitely a step up,” she said. “And it’s pretty stressful at first, but our team and our defense has really stepped up and played well — it’s all about having trust in your teammates, your coaches and the game plan.”

Head Coach Nate Norman agreed that the road stretch against the ACC’s best over the last few weeks taught the Irish some valuable lessons heading into tournament play.

“I think a lot of it is belief and confidence in ourselves,” Norman said. “I think all three of those games we felt like we were close, but we didn’t get it, and I think all those teams we played are teams that could win national championships. So I think walking away we can say ‘If we just be us, we can have a pretty good shot at beating anyone.’"

That confidence will be put to the test Sunday, as the Irish face a quick turnaround for their first ACC tournament game against the fifth-seeded Clemson Tigers. The last time the two sides faced off was just earlier this month when a double-overtime Eva Gaetino winner walked the Irish off 2-1 victors. The match will be played at Alumni Stadium at either 6 or 8 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on the ACC Network.