Notre Dame women’s soccer advanced to the ACC semifinals Saturday, downing Pittsburgh on penalty kicks.
The game wasn’t without regular time fireworks, as the Irish accumulated 26 total shots over 110 minutes of open play. Notre Dame was able to take the lead in the second after senior forward Kiki van Zanten coolly finished a cross from graduate defender Brianna Martinez. But the lead given by the well-worked goal was short-lived.
Just under fifteen minutes later, the Panthers found an equalizer. The goal was caused by some set piece mayhem, as the Irish failed to clear a dangerous long ball into the box. Goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood inadvertently knocked down center back Eva Gaetino, and in the commotion Katie Zailski was able to lob a pass to Leah Pais in front of the net. With Wood on the ground, Pais made quick work of the chance, guiding the ball into an empty goal to tie the game at one.
The knotted scoreline would stand until penalties, when Irish head coach Nate Norman made a bold change. Removing Wood in favor of junior Ashley Naylor, Norman opted to go with the goalkeeper that won Notre Dame its only shootout of the 2021 season.
And although Naylor didn’t make a save, the result validated the decision. After the Panthers' Sarah Schupansky and Irish senior midfielder Maddie Mercado traded converted attempts, Zailski struck the post with her effort. The damage was done. Sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert confidently scored her third penalty attempt in as many games to give the advantage to the Irish, and Notre Dame didn’t look back.
Van Zanten, senior defender Waniya Hudson and Martinez all found the back of the net with their efforts, and the Irish advanced to the semifinals. After the match, Norman said he stressed simplicity in how he prepared his team for the shootout.
“I think for us it's just about having good visualization,” Norman said. “Getting in your routine, making sure they think about each step of the process, not overanalyzing what happens. Just knowing that if you’re the one going up to take the PK, you put the ball where you want it, and that’s all you’ve got to worry about.”
Martinez also credited visualization with aiding her preparation for taking the game-deciding fifth penalty.
“I knew that I was the fifth PK taker, and that I was probably going to take it no matter what,” Martinez said. “So it was just about having the mental imagery of the ball hitting the back of the net before going up.”
Looking ahead, the Irish have now drawn themselves a matchup with defending national champion Florida State in the semifinals. The game is a rematch of one of Notre Dame’s biggest wins this season, a 4-0 triumph in South Bend just weeks ago.
Norman said that he’s looking for his side to attack the rematch with fresh eyes despite the earlier rout.
“I think it’s really about trying to bring energy into the game,” Norman said. “It’s a different game. They’ll come out and they’ll try to press us, and we’ll try to press them. It will be an open game, it’ll be a fun game for us to play, and I think for us it’s just about trying to bring a really hard, tough mentality against one of the very best teams in the country.”
Notre Dame will kick off against Florida State in Cary, North Carolina this Thursday with a trip to the ACC Championship on the line. The game will begin at 8 p.m. and will be broadcasted on the ACC Network.