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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame women’s soccer enters 2023 looking to build on quarterfinal run

David Beach
Purdue vs Notre Dame Soccer on Friday, November 19, 2021, at Razorback Field, Fayetteville. /David Beach)

On the heels of an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal appearance, Notre Dame women’s soccer enters 2023 with high expectations.

The Irish do lose a glut of talent in the center third of the pitch, including dynamic midfielder Korbin Albert. Albert, a finalist for last season’s Mac Hermann Trophy, departed over the offseason to pursue professional opportunities with Paris Saint-Germain after an outstanding sophomore campaign. Albert directly contributed to over half the goals Notre Dame scored against opposition ranked in the top 10 in 2022.

Also no longer with the squad are former starting wingbacks Brianna Martinez (drafted into the NWSL) and Kati Druzina (transferred to Duke), both of whom played a key role in the Irish’s 3-5-2 system. Notre Dame will also need to mitigate the departures of speedy forward Olivia Wingate, selected in the first round of the NWSL Draft by the North Carolina Courage, as well as veteran goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood (now with the Chicago Red Stars).

A stout backline remains unscathed for the Irish to build upon, though. Centerbacks Waniya Hudson, Eva Gaetino and Leah Klenke all return for their graduate, senior and sophomore campaigns, respectively.

Through the team’s first two games, that backline has been a strength. Notre Dame conceded twice against Milwaukee, but the pair of goals represented the only two shots the Panthers had on target on the day. The Irish defense followed that performance up by shutting out Ball State.

In terms of replacing the goalscoring production of Wingate and Albert, answers this fall have been more uneven. Notre Dame generated plenty of shots in their first two matches, but struggled to put them on target. All five goals have come from different scorers. 

The return of sophomore midfielder Laney Matriano to the fold should provide a boost for the team's chance creation efforts. Matriano missed the first two matches of the season due to injury, but she is expected to return to action soon.

The continued growth of the Irish’s freshman class will also likely play a role in the search for offensive output. Rookie midfielder Morgan Roy got on the scoresheet against Milwaukee. Her fellow freshman, forward Meg Mrowicki, followed suit days later against Ball State. Head coach Nate Norman has displayed an early trust in Roy, Mrowicki, midfielder Chayse Ying, defender Clare Logan and forward Charlie Codd not often seen in freshmen.

Graduate student midfielder Kiki Van Zanten and graduate student forward Maddie Mercado are two more names that will be relevant in the goal quest. Both veterans have played a major role in Notre Dame’s continued evolution under Norman, and each were significant parts of the team’s first two matches. Between Mercado’s 10-goal campaign in 2022 and Van Zanten’s Jamaican national team callup at the World Cup over the summer, there’s plenty of evidence that the pairing will get up and firing in due time.

Due time has a due date, though. The Irish open ACC play on Sept. 15 and will face a gauntlet of the nation’s best. Notre Dame came close to sharing the conference crown for the first time in the Norman era last year. A final day draw against Duke resigned the Irish to third place, however.

Among the foes Notre Dame will need to vanquish to again challenge for the ACC title and another No. 1 seed are a who’s who of perennial women’s soccer powerhouses. The Irish will hit the road to face 2022 College Cup participants Florida State and North Carolina. Other tests away from South Bend will include an ascendent Pitt squad and always-dangerous Duke. 

All told, seven of the 10 ACC teams the Irish will play qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season. A replication of last year’s 7-2-1 conference record is a lofty bar. But if Notre Dame can even come near that bar, especially when it comes to their record against teams like Florida State and Duke, it will be an important sign that the standard established by Norman in 2022 is here to stay.