Sept. 30, 2015
For the University of Notre Dame women’s soccer team, it was the equivalent of an NCAA Final Four weekend that occurred in the middle of the regular season.
On Thursday, the Fighting Irish took on No. 1-ranked Virginia.
On Sunday, the Fighting Irish faced defending national champion and No. 3-ranked Florida State.
Coach Theresa Romagnolo’s squad had the look of a champion Thursday, handing the top-ranked Cavaliers a 2-1 loss in double overtime. Notre Dame’s victory snapped a 38-game home winning streak by Virginia.
On Sunday, the Irish barely missed a second win in four days against the nation’s elite, as Florida State escaped Alumni Stadium with a 1-0 victory against the Fighting Irish.
Virginia entered its game against Notre Dame outscoring its previous six opponents by a whopping 21-4 margin. Florida State entered Sunday’s game against Notre Dame outscoring its previous six opponents by a 19-2 advantage.
Notre Dame, in two games and two overtimes against the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the nation, held the Cavaliers and Seminoles to one goal each.
“Our defense is awesome . . . I’d say maybe the best in the country,” said Notre Dame senior forward Anna Maria Gilbertson. “They played really well this weekend. It says a lot that we only gave up one goal to Virginia and one goal to Florida State.”
Gilbertson loved the chance to see how the Irish measured up against two of the nation’s top teams.
“I think it was a really exciting opportunity for our team,” Gilbertson said of playing Virginia and Florida State back to back. “Seeing these two teams, we definitely know we’re among those Final Four caliber teams. We’re definitely up there. We can take those teams. We’re fine.
“We lost 1-0 today, but we didn’t play our best and we only conceded one goal. That shows that even when we’re not playing well, we barely lost. When we do play well and bring our game, we’re going to win.”
Romagnolo also appreciated her Irish having a chance to take on national heavyweights.
“I loved the weekend,” Romagnolo said. “You can’t ask for better preparation mid-season, but we have to learn from this. We have to show up every day to do our job. I didn’t feel that we showed up to do the job that needed to be done against Florida State and find a way to get a result. Florida State did, and you see why they’re national champions.”
Against Florida State, Notre Dame had early opportunities but couldn’t cash in. Romagnolo thought her Irish didn’t have the demeanor they displayed in their upset of Virginia.
“We didn’t bring composure to either half against Florida State,” Romagnolo said. “Defensively, we’re pretty solid. Offensively, we lacked composure. We didn’t move the ball fast enough. I didn’t think we showed up to take care of the game – and go after the game and take it.”
Notre Dame was short-handed against the Seminoles. Glory Williams, who brings the Irish calmness and composure according to Romagnolo, missed the game due to a concussion she suffered in the Virginia game.
Romagnolo remains convinced the Irish could have beaten the Seminoles.
“If we actually attack that game, we can win that game,” Romagnolo said. “That’s what gets under everybody’s skin. We look at that game, and if we play better we could easily win.”
Gilbertson said she believes the Irish will grow from their Final Four-caliber mid-season tests.
“We had a few opportunities early,” Gilbertson said. “We need to be even more aggressive and take those chances. We weren’t very intense today. We need to bring that up. I think that for next game we’ve learned our lesson and we’re ready to go.
“What I love about our team is that no matter what obstacle we face, no matter what hits us, no matter the ups or downs, we are always together and we know that we have each other’s backs. We’ll put the past behind us and be ready for the next game. We’ll be positive and have good energy. That’s very valuable for the tournament. I think the most important thing is that when you are playing soccer and going into the tournament, you’ve got to have that team atmosphere. “
For Notre Dame to emerge as a championship team in 2015, Romagnolo said the Irish have to be the team that unleashed fierce play against Virginia.
“It was a great result,” Romagnolo said of the win at Virginia. “You saw us throw caution to the wind and give everything that we had. You didn’t see that against Florida State. Why?
“That is the question we need to get to the bottom of if you want to talk about trying to be a national champion. You have to throw caution to the wind and play as hard as you can and give everything you have – like we did against Virginia – in a smart, focused, organized way. We’re absolutely capable of doing that. If we can do it on a Thursday night against Virginia at their place, we should be able to come out and do it at home against a good Florida State team.”
– by Curt Rallo, special correspondent