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Thursday, June 13, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame women’s soccer enjoys deepest tournament run since 2018

Notre Dame women’s soccer enjoyed a resurgent 2021 campaign, doubling their 2020 win total and making their deepest tournament run since 2018. 

The Irish finished fourth in the ACC, a conference widely regarded as the best in women’s soccer. After such an impressive conference performance, the Irish turned in a strong push in the national tournament. Dispatching SIU-Edwardsville in the first round, the Irish had to dig deep in the round of 32 against Purdue. Following 110 minutes of play without a decisive winner, sophomore goalkeeper Ashley Naylor stepped up. She made a pair of crucial saves to propel Notre Dame to a shootout victory. The Irish’s run would come to a close against Arkansas in the Sweet Sixteen. Notre Dame fought back from 1-0, and then 2-1, but a late goal put the Razorbacks over the top to win.

Playing a major role throughout the regular season and tournament run was graduate student midfielder turned forward Sammi Fisher. The team’s leader in both goals and assists, Fisher finished the season tied for second in the ACC in total points. 

Playing upfront as one of two central strikers, the Simi Valley, California, native occupied a uniquely large role in the Irish attack. Fisher was exceptional at linking play between the midfield and forward lines. In any given game it would hardly be a surprise to see Fisher all over the field in an attempt to progress the ball.

Head coach Nate Norman remarked on Fisher’s strength of doing more than just tally goals as a center forward.

“Her ability in front of goal is being hungry to score, but also creative,” Norman said. “[She] still has a clear mind of ‘I’m not just trying to take a shot every single time. How can I help my teammates and set my teammates up as best as possible.’”

Alongside Fisher in the second of the two center-forward roles was fellow senior Olivia Wingate. Wingate enjoyed a productive 2021 season, notching seven goals as well as five assists. Stretching defenses with an abundance of speed and dribbling ability, Wingate made for a highly compatible partner with a skilled creator in Fisher. The pair linked up numerous times to create goals for each other.

Behind the Wingate/Fisher striker partnership, Notre Dame also got major contributions from senior Brooke VanDyck in attacking midfield. A hometown hero, VanDyck notched two goals and an assist as the tip of the spear in Norman’s 3-5-2 formation.

At the base of that five-person midfield was another graduate student, Camryn Dyke. As Notre Dame’s lynchpin in defensive midfield, Dyke played a tireless role in protecting the Irish backline and retaining possession. Starting every single game of the 2021 campaign, the graduate student made the number six role her own.

Brianna Martinez was another senior who played an integral role in Notre Dame’s run to the Sweet Sixteen, operating as a wingback. Offering both defensive cover and skillful crossing on the flank, Martinez’s persistent work rate was central to the Irish system.

In net, Mattie Interian entered the season as Notre Dame’s starting keeper. The senior held that position for every game she was available for before an injury derailed her 2021 campaign. Only allowing two goals in four starts, she posted a 0.867 save percentage on 13 total saves.

A variety of other seniors pitched in for the Irish across the fall in other roles off the bench. Graduate student Hulda Ósk Jónsdóttir made 18 appearances on the wing, offering ample on-ball quality and a strong work rate. Fellow graduate students Erin Ospek and Julia Ware provided depth at forward and defender, respectively, while senior Nikki Colantuono added to the midfield.

Between a strong cast of seniors returning for their COVID eligibility year and a core of younger defenders and midfielders, Notre Dame is well-positioned for another strong run in 2022. Nate Norman brings back his entire starting trio of center backs, as well as an attacking midfielder in Korbin Albert. Already, Albert has flashed the potential to be one of the best players in her class in her rookie season. With such talent mixed with the added experience of seniors like Wingate and Martinez back for one last ride, the Irish leave 2021 with both a strong foundation to build on and plenty of optimism for the future.