Nov. 6, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The often-called “second season” is in full swing for the University of Notre Dame women’s soccer team. With the passing of another regular season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Fighting Irish are again primed to make a run in the conference championship tournament. This year’s ACC Women’s Soccer Championship, however, features a bit of a wrinkle.
Only four teams qualified for the 2014 ACC Championship, a veritable who’s who of the talent the conference has to offer in No. 1 seed Florida State, No. 2 seed North Carolina, No. 3 seed Virginia, and Notre Dame as the fourth and final tournament competitor. The Fighting Irish (12-4-2) will not have to wait long to be tested, taking on top-seeded Florida State (16-1-1) on Friday at 5:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN3 at the UNCG Soccer Stadium in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“We were talking with the team earlier this week about how our body of work has been very good,” Notre Dame head coach Theresa Romagnolo said. “I’m very happy with what we’ve done over the course of the regular season, and I think we are excited to get to that next chapter now.”
What Notre Dame has done thus far in 2014 is defeat three top 25 opponents, also earning a draw against a top five ranked foe, while posting an unbeaten mark in road contests. In fact, the Fighting Irish completed only the ninth unbeaten regular season road schedule in program history (6-0-2) with a 1-1 draw at Boston College last Saturday night.
Notre Dame outscored opponents 13-2 in true road matches during the regular season, recording a 707-minute shutout streak as a visitor that spanned from the 23rd minute of the season opener at Illinois on Aug. 22 until the 79th minute at Boston College.
Leaving the Notre Dame campus in search of an ACC crown will take the Fighting Irish to a place where they have shown an uncanny calm throughout the season. A stadium far away from home.
“Whenever we are on the road there are very few distractions, and it’s good for us to be together as a team,” Romagnolo said. “We kind of enjoy that time away from campus where we can be together and focus on the opportunity that is in front of us. I think we’ve done a very good of being able to focus, get up and compete against every opponent, whether it’s home or away.”
The immediate test of a team like Florida State, who enters the ACC Championship as the No. 2 ranked team in Division I women’s soccer, will immediately set the tone for Notre Dame in its postseason march. The Seminoles have earned a pair of one-goal decisions (1-0 on Nov. 23, 2012; 2-1 in 2OT on Oct. 31, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida) in the past two meetings in the series, but the Fighting Irish are primed to turn the tide.
“They are excited, and I think it’s really just like every other game in the ACC,” Romagnolo said. “Every year is a new year, so you need to get to know that team. We’re continuing to work on things that we feel will allow us to be successful on Friday night. Working on our defending pressure, our attacking ideas, getting a little bit sharper around both boxes. At the end of the day we want to make sure that when we step on the field, we bring a great competitive spirit and we attack.
“When you look at the ACC tournament, you have four teams in the top 10 nationally right now,” Romagnolo added. “It could easily be like a final four. For us, we’re excited to measure ourselves against another top team. I really think it’s going to help propel us into the NCAA tournament.”
Closing the regular season with eight results in its final nine matches (7-1-1), Notre Dame has more than hit its stride during the second half. Maintaining that momentum, and stellar level of play, is what Romagnolo and her staff have preached to the Fighting Irish as postseason play begins. Everything else will fall into place.
“We’re always focused on having a good performance,” Romagnolo said. “That’s the pressure we put on ourselves, to show up and be the best every day that we step on the field. At the end of the day we can’t worry about RPI or what the NCAA committee is going to decide in terms of seeding, we just have to go out there and do our best. I think things will take care of themselves from there.
“We’re definitely getting better and better at this stage in the season,” she added. “Going up to BC there were a few things that reminded us of the attention to detail that we need to continue to have as we progress now at this point of the season. We’re at a great point, and we just need to keep it going.”
The ACC Championship experience will be another milestone in a season of firsts for Romagnolo during her inaugural campaign at the helm of Notre Dame. The first-year Fighting Irish mentor will coach for the very first time in a conference tournament this weekend in Greensboro, as her prior stints at San Diego (West Coast Conference), Stanford (Pac 12 Conference) and Dartmouth (Ivy League) were in leagues that do not sanction season-ending championship tournaments.
“It’s a nice reward for the body of work that you put forth in the ACC,” Romagnolo said. “It’s going to be exciting and fun for us, and a nice reward, and we’re going out there to get a result in that first game on Friday.”
Regardless of what results the weekend may produce, Notre Dame has the chance to showcase its skills in the only conference championship tournament in the nation to feature four top 10 ranked entrants. Bringing the Fighting Irish style of play to the ACC Championship, Romagnolo said, will showcase what Notre Dame women’s soccer is built upon.
“My goal is that whenever anyone watches us they are impressed with how hard we work, our grit, our competitive spirit, those are the things we can always control,” Romagnolo said. “That’s always the performance I want displayed on the field. I want us to bring great quality in the attack, with some composure, but I want the team to always fight, battle and scrap. Do all of the blue collar work that we can control.”
For more information on the Fighting Irish women’s soccer program, follow Notre Dame on Twitter (@NDsoccernews or @NDSoccer), like the Fighting Irish on Facebook (facebook.com/NDWomenSoccer) or sign up for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the main page at UND.com.
Senior midfielder and MAC Hermann Trophy candidate Dagny Brynjarsdottir has been an offensive force for Florida State in her first 15 matches (13 starts) this season, tallying 13 goals and three assists for a team-high 29 points. Brynjarsdottir leads all Seminoles with four game-winning goals in 2014. Senior midfielder Marta Bakowska-Mathews has added nine goals and six assists, while sophomore midfielder/forward Berglind Thorvaldsdottir has accounted for 10 goals and three assists as Florida State’s third 20-point scorer.
Freshman goalkeeper Cassie Miller has started every game in the Florida State net this season, surrendering eight goals in 1,655 plus minutes of game play (0.43 goals-against average). Miller is the ACC leader with 12 solo shutouts.
Head coach Mark Krikorian is in his 10th season at the helm of Florida State, leading the Seminoles to a combined 185-42-18 (.792) mark in that span. Krikorian has guided Florida State to ACC regular season championships in 2009 and 2012, along with conference tournament victories in 2011 and 2013.
THE NOTRE DAME-FLORIDA STATE SERIES
Notre Dame owns a slim 9-7 aggregate goal advantage over Florida State in the series, scoring two goals in each of its first four matches against the Seminoles.
THE LAST TIME NOTRE DAME AND FLORIDA STATE MET
Forward Anna Maria Gilbertson put Notre Dame on the board with a brilliant unassisted goal in the 28th minute, but Florida State rallied behind a pair of goals by Marta Bakowska-Mathews, the first with 2:35 left in regulation to force the added time, and then the match-winner with 5:36 remaining in the second overtime period.
It was a difficult ending for the Fighting Irish, who wound up outshooting the Seminoles 17-16, while the teams each recorded seven shots on goal (not including one Notre Dame shot that hit the crossbar). FSU had the edge on corner kicks (9-5) and fouls (11-3).
Goalkeeper Kaela Little took the hard-luck loss in the Notre Dame net, making five saves. Seminole goalkeeper Kelsey Wys turned aside six shots for the hosts.
LAST TIME OUT: BOSTON COLLEGE
Notre Dame completed the ninth unbeaten road regular season in program history, logging a 6-0-2 record in true road contests this season. The Fighting Irish also claimed a result in their final six regular season matches, posting a 5-0-1 mark in that span.
Notre Dame outshot Boston College 18-9 on a slick field, coated by constant rain in icy cold temperatures, including 8-3 in shots on goal.
FIVE IRISH PLAYERS EARN ALL-ACC RECOGNITION
Junior midfielder tri-captain Cari Roccaro was named to the all-ACC first team for the second straight year, becoming Notre Dame’s ninth three-time all-conference first team performer (BIG EAST first team as a freshman in 2012).
IRISH JOIN LOADED ACC CHAMPIONSHIP FIELD
The other three teams in the ACC Championship field have combined to win 24 of the 26 tournaments contested since 1988. North Carolina leads all conference affiliates with 20 ACC tournament titles, but the Tar Heels are in search of their first win at the event since 2009. Virginia is a two-time ACC champion (2004 and 2012), while Florida State took home the ACC hardware in 2011 and 2013.
IRISH POST NINTH UNBEATEN ROAD REGULAR SEASON IN PROGRAM HISTORY
The Fighting Irish completed the ninth unbeaten road regular season in program history with a 1-1 draw at Boston College last Saturday night. Notre Dame finished the regular season road slate 6-0-2 (.875), earning three results over top 25 teams during the streak.
Notre Dame outscored host teams a combined 13-2 during those eight road matches, holding home opponents scoreless for more than 707 minutes from the 23rd minute at Illinois until the 79th minute at Boston College.
NEXT UP FOR THE IRISH: ACC CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL