Junior defender/tri-captain Katie Naughton was named the espnW Soccer Player of the Week in recognition of her solid performance in Notre Dame's two ACC wins last weekend

Pitch Points: The ACC Gauntlet Continues

Oct. 2, 2014

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – In a competitive league like the Atlantic Coast Conference, there is usually little time to reminisce on past results regardless of if they were victories or defeats. Two crucial road wins last weekend for the No. 14/10 University of Notre Dame women’s soccer team are now in the past, with No. 4/5 Virginia traveling to Alumni Stadium for a conference showdown on Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET) on WatchND.

Learning from past triumphs and heartbreaks, however, is what allows a team to press on during a rigorous conference slate. Notre Dame head coach Theresa Romagnolo felt there were many positives that emerged in a 2-0 win at No. 2/3 Virginia Tech last Thursday and a 1-0 clean sheet at Wake Forest on Sunday.

“We brought a very consistent effort to both games,” Romagnolo said. “The team was fired up because they had never beaten Virginia Tech on their home field, and they definitely brought a little something special to that game. I think it carried into the game at Wake Forest as well.”

It was two completely unique games in each ACC stop last weekend in terms of Notre Dame’s offensive output, with the Fighting Irish scoring their pair of goals midway through the second half at Virginia Tech before racing out to a quick lead in just the sixth minute against Wake Forest. What remained the same throughout the 180 minutes of action was the team’s intensity and will to control possessions.

“One thing we did well, as a team, was we defended,” Romagnolo said. “We really limited Virginia Tech’s abilities to go to goal, we double-teamed the ball and came away with it. We were also composed when we had the ball and were able to keep possession and build up the field to create opportunities.”

Those efforts paid dividends far beyond the two conference wins and shutouts. Junior defender/tri-captain Katie Naughton (Elk Grove Village, Illinois/Elk Grove) was named the espnW Soccer Player of the Week for her role as a central anchor of the Notre Dame back line. Senior forward Karin Simonian (Westbury, New York/W.T. Clarke) parlayed her first goal and assist of the 2014 season, which helped account for both game-winning scores last weekend, into a spot on the TopDrawerSoccer.com Team of the Week.

One of the players who shined brightest was sophomore goalkeeper Kaela Little (Tulsa, Oklahoma/Bishop Kelley), who became the first Fighting Irish netminder to be named the ACC Player of the Week on Tuesday. Little, credited with a total of nine saves combined against Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, cemented herself as one of the top keepers in the ACC with her two performances.

“Kaela really is a fantastic goalkeeper,” Romagnolo said. “She’s a great shot stopper, she really owns her box and is able come out on crosses and punch or catch balls that can be dangerous. She brings great leadership and a desire to win.”

What was most encouraging, from the perspective of the Notre Dame coaching staff, was how all players on the field did their part to contribute to keeping the opposition off the scoreboard.

“(Last weekend) the difference was the team in front of Kaela did a better job of limiting the opportunities the opponent had,” Romagnolo said. “Although Kaela got a shutout, they were really team shutouts in terms of the effort that they all brought. We kept Virginia Tech (averaging more than eight per game) to five shots on goal. It’s a team effort in getting a shutout.

“I think we have always done a good job of winning the 50-50s, and picking up the second balls,” Romagnolo added. “Our midfield, that’s one of their strengths. For me, the grit of the team is being able to play for the duration of a game and to bring a consistent effort. That is something I felt we did very well last weekend. We saw the results of defending as a team for the full 90 and we saw the results of keeping the ball and staying composed for the full 90, being able to create great chances.”

While the team’s execution stayed at a high level on both ends of the pitch during the longest road trip of the ACC season for Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish likely could have scored more goals against both Virginia Tech and Wake Forest after converting only three of 11 combined shots on goal. Staying focused with an aggressive mentality, Romagnolo believes, will continue to yield results regardless of the box score.

“Soccer is a funny game, where you can dominate a team but only win one-nil,” Romagnolo said. “Against Wake Forest I thought we played a very good game and had a lot of opportunities in the second half that we just didn’t capitalize on. At the end of the day, we want to limit the opponent’s opportunities and keep creating for ourselves.”

To purchase a season pass or single-match tickets for the 2014 Notre Dame women’s soccer season, call the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office at (574) 631-7356, visit the official Notre Dame athletics ticketing web site, UND.com/tickets or stop by the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office windows during normal business hours (9 a.m.-5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday). Tickets also can be purchased at Alumni Stadium on match days.

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.


— Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant