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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Irish season ends to Tar Heels in NCAA quarterfinals

On Saturday night, the Notre Dame women’s soccer season came to an end with a 2-0 loss to UNC in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. 

The Tar Heels set the tone early. A first-half goal from Ally Sentnor put the away side ahead just 20 minutes into the match. Libby Moore unleashed a powerful long shot that careened off the crossbar, and the senior burst forward to head the ball past Irish graduate student goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood.

North Carolina continued its dominance for the remainder of the first half, controlling the pace of the game and the majority of the chances. They outshot the Irish 7-2 heading into the break.

Coming out of halftime, things went from bad to worse for Notre Dame. Within minutes, the Irish conceded what would prove to be the game-icing goal. Talia Dellaperuta’s initial effort was blocked back to her, and the junior made no mistakes with her second attempt, firing home into the roof of the net. 

Late surge not enough

The second goal seemed to jolt the Irish attack awake. Notre Dame found a renewed energy and picked up its tempo. Several dangerous crosses came across the face of the UNC net, but try as the Irish might, they just couldn’t make their way past Tar Heel goalkeeper Emmie Allen. 

North Carolina excelled all night at controlling the middle of the pitch and forcing Notre Dame out wide. That defensive strategy, head coach Nate Norman remarked, the Irish weren’t able to capitalize on enough.

“They clogged up the center, I think as the game went on we really needed to play in those wide areas,” Norman said. “We needed to keep switching. They were kind of giving us that, I think if we were to have gotten to that a little bit earlier in the game it would have opened up and they would have adjusted and pulled out. We just didn’t find those passes sometimes. I think if we could have handled that better the game might have gone differently.”

Irish eyeing more in 2023

The match marked the final game in Irish colors for several key graduate student contributors. That includes striker Olivia Wingate, wingback Brianna Martinez and goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood. Norman thanked the group for their contributions to the program and its recent growth after the game.

“All those kids, they pushed this group forward,” Norman said. “Kids that have been here five years, some of them just one year, but they’re all a part of a group that's putting Notre Dame back on the map. Grinding through the rough times and being resilient. Just being selfless and giving everything they can to that team. I couldn’t be more proud of those players.”

The Irish have now seen a second consecutive season with growth in both on-field play and final standing. Last year, Notre Dame fell in the Sweet 16. Norman said there’s still more to come for Notre Dame as the program looks ahead to 2023.

“I think we have a ton of returning talent and we’re bringing in a really good recruiting class,” Norman said. “I just think all these experiences give you confidence and belief. Hopefully, this will really motivate us and fuel us throughout the spring season to really grow and get better, which I think they did this past year. I think we can take it to a new level which I’m really excited about.”

Contact J.J. Post at