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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame women’s soccer falls to Clemson in ACC quarterfinals

Notre Dame women’s soccer bowed out of the ACC tournament on Sunday night, falling to Clemson 3-2 at Alumni Stadium. 

Needless to say, the performance from the Irish was far from their best on the year. From start to finish, the Irish looked overmatched and tired. Clemson struck first and early, taking the lead in just the twelfth minute when forward Caroline Conti burst down the wing and slotted the ball away near post at a tight angle. A little over ten minutes later, the Tigers would strike again, this time with midfielder Megan Bornkamp powering a half volley across the face of goal into the back of the net. 

A Notre Dame side seemingly caught flat-footed wouldn’t respond until just before halftime, when a long through ball by junior midfielder Maddie Mercado found the run of freshman midfielder Korbin Albert, who evaded Clemson goalkeeper Hensley Hancuff and tapped the ball into an empty net. That Albert chance would be Notre Dame’s first and only shot on target of the half.

The dearth of chances would continue into the second half when the Tigers once again extended their lead, this time through Makenna Morris. After a dispossession in the Irish box, Clemson was able to line up a prime chance, and while some good team defense prevented an immediate shot from emerging, eventually the ball made its way to Morris who made no mistake rocketing the ball into the top corner. 

The Irish would again pull within one when graduate student midfielder Sammi Fisher was brought down in the box in the eightieth minute and subsequently put home the ensuing penalty kick. Ultimately, the Fisher goal and collection of half-chances that would emerge for the home side as they pulled out all the stops to equalize wouldn’t be enough. A free kick in the final minute just inside the box, awarded after Hancuff was whistled by the referee for time-wasting, offered the best chance of the final stages, but the Tiger wall held firm.

Ultimately, as head coach Nate Norman effectively surmised after the game, the performance by the Irish simply wasn’t good enough in crucial aspects of the game:

“We felt like we weren’t picking up a lot of second balls, and they were generating a lot more possession than we were, but I think some rest will help us," Norman said. "We learn a bit every game and we’ll try to figure out ways we can combat some of the challenges we get to see in the conference.”

Norman touched on the issue of fatigue, with the team playing its third match in a week, and how it affected his side’s play:

“I think we were a little tired today. It was a long road trip with those three games [referencing the Irish’s swing away to Virginia, Duke, and North Carolina over the last two weeks], and we played a little bit tired and I think we need to recover,” he said. “We have some bumps and bruises; we need to sort those out to get us ready. We love playing in the ACC, but it’s definitely a challenge and a gauntlet that sometimes can get you worn down a little bit, and I think we showed that today. We fought, we gave ourselves a chance, but it definitely wasn’t our best performance.”

Norman’s assessment, while blunt, is hard to dispute. Two of Clemson’s three goals arguably don’t occur if not for individual defensive lapses, which had been almost completely non-existent for the Irish back five prior to today. As Norman touched on with the issue of second balls, the midfield seemed to be constantly slightly behind the play, both when Notre Dame was on the front foot and when Clemson started their attacks. The attacking patterns looked repetitive and seemed to be figured out by the Tiger defense early on. This was not the Irish team that entered fall break on an eight-game winning streak. Hopefully, with a clear schedule and as a result some much-needed rest ahead for Notre Dame, we’ll see that dominant version of the Irish in the first round of tournament play later this month.