Oct. 27, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – As soon as the University of Notre Dame women’s soccer post-game huddle broke up Sunday after the Fighting Irish turned back Atlantic Coast Conference rival Louisville, high fives, smiles and victory yells swept across the Alumni Stadium field.
Notre Dame, 12-4-1 (7-2 ACC), secured a berth in the four-team ACC Championship by shutting out Louisville 1-0. The ACC Championship semifinals and final are Nov. 7 and 9 in Greensboro, N.C.
Ranked No. 9/7 in the nation, the Fighting Irish are a virtual lock for selection to the NCAA Championship bracket.
After honoring seniors Jennifer Jasper, Sarah Voigt, Taylor Schneider, Karin Simonian, Lauren Bohaboy and Sammy Scofield Sunday for their contributions to the program, the Fighting Irish went out and turned in an exceptional effort on the field to achieve a meaningful goal in qualifying for the ACC Championship.
Winning its fifth game in a row, Notre Dame will be taking a wave of momentum into the post-season after its regular-season finale next Saturday at Boston College. Playing in the ACC Championship gives the Fighting Irish a chance to hone their skills to get ready for a run in the NCAA Championship.
“I think it’s huge,” Notre Dame coach Theresa Romagnolo said of earning the ACC berth. “For me, it’s great because it means we’re playing some high RPI games. It’s preparing us for games that we’ll see in the NCAA Championship. The teams in the ACC Championship are all potential Final Four teams.”
Scofield, one of Notre Dame’s tri-captains, said playing in the ACC Championship will give the Fighting Irish an edge heading into the NCAA Championship.
“We’re really excited about getting into the ACC Championship,” Scofield said. “The ACC is, we feel, the best women’s soccer conference. It’s really important for us to get to the tournament. It will be great competition and will help us move forward into the NCAA Championship.
“I think the ACC Championship will give us some confidence,” Scofield continued. “All four teams in the ACC Championship are really good and highly ranked. If we can perform there, it will give us momentum to go into the tournament and hopefully make our journey longer.”
Romagnolo likes what she sees as the Fighting Irish gear up for the post-season. The current Irish five-game winning streak is built on five consecutive shutouts.
“Defensively, we’re not allowing a lot of opportunities,” Romagnolo said. “We’re denying crosses and we’re denying shots. I think the whole back four together has been doing a really great job. I feel like our outside backs have done a great job of really pressuring and denying service. The center backs are so solid in stepping in and covering. As a team, we’re doing a very good job of picking up 50-50 balls, so we’re getting hold of the ball more.”
On Sunday, the Fighting Irish dominated the ball against Louisville and gave themselves plenty of opportunities to score.
Romagnolo loves the consistency and toughness she sees the Notre Dame team developing.
“The team that steps on the field is the same team every game,” Romagnolo said. “We’re bringing in a toughness and a desire to compete. We’re organized, and we’re getting a hold of the ball.”
Irish junior midfielder/tri-captain Cari Roccaro said Notre Dame has improved significantly during the season.
“I think our team has grown a lot,” Roccaro said. “Now, we’re having that tenacity, we’re finishing games. We’re finding a way to win. We’re putting goals in the net. We’re having shutout after shutout lately. This is only going to help us going into the post-season.”
Roccaro said the Fighting Irish coaching staff has helped the club amp up its toughness through intense practices. The highly competitive practices and talent level of the roster keep the Irish sharp.
“Knowing someone could take your spot right away, you need to put everything you have out on the line,” Roccaro said. “That really helps our team stay tough.”
Roccaro also said the Fighting Irish have the chemistry to make a strong run in the post-season.
“We genuinely love each other,” Roccaro said. “This is one of the closest teams I’ve ever been on. Fighting for your teammates is a really cool feeling. I think chemistry is really important for success.”
Scofield sees the Irish unity paying off.
“We’re really getting into a flow,” Scofield said of the recent Fighting Irish surge. “Things are starting to click. People have each other’s backs, and you can tell. Everyone is more comfortable on the ball, because we have more support. We’re working more as a unit.”
Bohaboy has seen Notre Dame playing more aggressively during the winning streak.
“I think we’ve been really focusing and working hard,” Bohaboy said. “We’re making sure that we’re coming out with a lot of intensity at the start of the first and second halves. We’ve also been doing pretty well at finishing. That’s crucial, because you’re not going to get that many chances when you get to the NCAA Championship.”
Romagnolo said the Fighting Irish must maintain their progress to make an impact in the post-season.
“It’s just a matter of us continuing to stay sharp, maintaining our toughness and asserting our will on our opponent,” Romagnolo said. “I’d like to see us play a little bit faster. I want to see us come out and attack an opponent. Can we put two or three in the back of the net if we have those opportunities, and not take for granted that we’ll have 22 shots on goal? There may be a game where we only have five shots. Can we take advantage of that?”
If Notre Dame follows Romagnolo’s plan, the 2014 postseason could be one to remember for the Fighting Irish.
— Curt Rallo, special correspondent