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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

Irish season ends with second round heartbreaker against Memphis

The opportunity arose for forward Maddie Mercado with about nine minutes remaining in the game, and in hindsight, Notre Dame's season. The Irish had crept to within a goal just moments earlier thanks to Mercado's team-leading ninth goal of the season. There was no one the Irish would have rather given the time and space afforded to Mercado as she cut inside the box. With Memphis goalkeeper Kaylie Bierman at her mercy, the graduate student took her aim and swung her right leg forward.

Crossbar.

The final whistle blew shortly thereafter, but that was the last, best chance for the Irish to extend their season. After an 11-2-4 regular season and a deep NCAA Tournament run in 2022, Notre Dame's postseason journey was shorter than expected in 2023. A 3-2 defeat to Memphis in Fayetteville, Arkansas, brought their season to a close in heartbreaking fashion.

The Tigers struck first just 15 minutes in when Finley Lavin finished off a wild scramble in front for her first goal of the season. The Irish played a strong first half, but it took nearly all of it to find an answer for Bierman, who made five saves in the opening 45 minutes. Freshman forward Meg Mrowicki cashed in on an opportunity in front set up by graduate student Kristina Lynch for what felt like a potential game-changing tally just before halftime.

But instead, the Irish struggled to find the target in the second half. After putting 6 of their 9 first-half shots on goal, Notre Dame fired 12 times in the second frame but made Bierman work just thrice. A backbreaking 90-second sequence saw the Tigers score twice courtesy of Saorla Miller and Ashley Henderson. Despite the late efforts of Mercado and company, the Irish couldn't claw back. The Irish managed just one shot attempt after Mercado connected with the woodwork, a 90th-minute try by freshman midfielder Morgan Roy. It was blocked.

It's a bit harsh to say the Irish took a step back from a year ago. After all, a 14-2-1 regular season and NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals appearance is a hard act to follow, especially with the Irish replacing their two leading scorers and starting goalie. Freshman Atlee Olofson looks like the future in net, although she was bested by Bierman on Friday.

Under Nate Norman, the Irish have further cemented themselves as a top team in the women's soccer landscape. However, they failed to build on last year's success and will have to wait until next year for another chance to climb the NCAA Tournament mountain.

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