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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Six-minute scoring burst propels Irish to comeback victory over Butler

Irish sophomore forward Kiki Van Zanten jogs down the field during Notre Dame's 2-3 loss to Iowa on Sep. 15, 2019 at Alumni Stadium.
Irish sophomore forward Kiki Van Zanten jogs down the field during Notre Dame’s 2-3 loss to Iowa on Sep. 15, 2019 at Alumni Stadium.

At the 56-minute mark Thursday night, it was fair to be concerned about the Notre Dame women’s soccer team. After generating 57 shots across their first two contests, the Irish had been held to three in the opening half against Butler. Bulldogs freshman sensation Norah Jacomen had just turned a rare Irish turnover into her third goal in two games. To that point, it was the only goal of the match. With a matchup against No. 10 Arkansas looming on Sunday, an Irish team that rode a 7-0 start to the cusp of the College Cup a year ago was suddenly staring down the barrel of emerging from a season-opening four-game homestand with just one victory.

At the 57-minute mark, the Irish reminded everyone why they are the Irish. Why they were ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll. Why they made their deepest postseason run in a decade last year. And, most importantly, why they’re capable of achieving more success in 2023. Instead of letting Butler’s bend-don’t-break defense or the sweltering sun get to them, the Irish dug in. It was at that minute the Irish equalized the game. Three minutes later, they had the lead. Three minutes after that, they had breathing room. And 28 minutes later, there they were, celebrating a 4-1 victory over the Bulldogs that felt so convincing by the end it was hard to recall the Irish ever trailing.

But they had — and that made the victory even sweeter. After a devastating last-minute equalizer from long, long distance in their season opener against Milwaukee that could stagger even the strongest of squads, Notre Dame responded exactly how you would expect a championship-caliber team to. The Irish took care of business last Sunday with a dominant 3-0 win over Ball State. And though Thursday presented ample opportunities for them to be phased, Notre Dame stayed composed and emerged victorious.

It wasn’t just the early second-half deficit that stood in the Irish’s way, though. Neither side let the extreme heat slow them down, with the game quickly being defined by its physicality. The teams combined for 25 fouls, with Butler racking up a whopping four yellow cards. It turned the game into a bit of a slog, as opposed to the rapid pace the Irish prefer to play with. Though Notre Dame still handily won the possession battle, they struggled to turn their time on attack into quality chances. Butler’s breakthrough goal early in the second half could have been the turning point. Instead, it was a wake-up call.

Irish head coach Nate Norman noted after the game that his team needed to regain their focus and make an effort to “speed the game up.” He called Notre Dame’s play over the next few minutes a “great, great response.”

The Irish reconjured the chaos that helped lead them to victory against Ball State. Graduate student midfielder Kristina Lynch scored her first goal in nearly two years after missing all of 2022 due to injury, ripping a low shot off the hands of Bulldogs keeper Emma Martin for her first tally as a member of the Irish. Notre Dame took the lead in a similar fashion. Senior defender Eva Gaetino practically swatted a loose ball right out of Martin’s hands and punched it into the net.

The whirlwind sequence concluded when graduate student midfielder Kiki Van Zanten ripped a penalty kick inside the left post to put Notre Dame in the driver’s seat. Freshman forward Meg Mrowicki capped off the onslaught with a crafty move in tight for her second goal of the season. Falling behind is never optimal, but other than that, things largely went well for the Irish.

“We wanted to be able to be the team that kind of controls the tempo and keeps the ball,” Norman said. ”And I do think as the game wore on, they got more tired, and we were the team that had the energy. So I think that’s really a lot of what happened the last 30 minutes as well. And that’s what we’re hoping to happen.”

There’s no such thing as a perfect game. The Irish certainly weren’t perfect against Butler. But things largely went to plan, and as the Irish have proven over the last few seasons — and did again on Thursday — that plan is a hard one to beat.