Sept. 23, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Exhaustion. After a grueling 100 minutes of play against the most successful program in the history of the college game, the University of Notre Dame women’s soccer team had emptied the tank both physically and mentally in a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to No. 9/8 North Carolina in double overtime on Saturday.
Sophomore midfielder Morgan Andrews (Milford, N.H./Milford), who has ignited the Fighting Irish to a 3-1-1 stretch in their past five matches, left everything on the field. The reigning Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Freshman of the Year scored her fourth goal of the season, and third in two games, while adding an assist during a dynamic first half against North Carolina. Mere minutes after the Tar Heels stunned Notre Dame 27 seconds into the second overtime period to claim victory in the ACC opener, Andrews and her teammates did something remarkable.
Following a postgame stretch, the entire Notre Dame team walked over to the fence near the women’s home bench at Alumni Stadium and signed autographs, took photos, and showed their appreciation to dozens of young fans who were among the 2,024 in attendance for the match for the next half hour. Andrews, in particular, did not leave the fence until she had managed to make her way down the length of the line, not even 30 minutes removed from heartbreak.
“Even though that game was a heartbreaker for us it just meant so much to have so many fans show up, especially those little kids,” Andrews said. “I was one of those little kids before and had been to a Notre Dame game, went to a North Carolina game, and all those kids want is a picture or a signature. For you to do something so small and make someone’s day, it means a lot. Even if you go through a hard time, you can still make someone else’s day. We knew that we could do that, and even with not finishing the game like we wanted to, we knew it could still be a successful night.”
Given how the game had ended, one would have understood if the Fighting Irish players might have made a quick pass to greet their fans before leaving the stadium, but the team ended up doing the exact opposite. The show of gratitude was not lost on first-year Notre Dame head coach Theresa Romagnolo.
“The girls realize the tremendous opportunity that they have to be a Notre Dame student-athlete, and they look for ways to give back to the community,” Romagnolo said. “They realize the impact they can have on some young lives. The relationships you can form with just a brief encounter with people off the field will leave them with an impression of the whole program, more so even than the game.”
As No. 20/16 Notre Dame (5-3-1) moves on to its next ACC opponent, undefeated No. 2/3 Virginia Tech (10-0) this Thursday night in Blacksburg, Va., the Fighting Irish will move on from the disappointing end to the North Carolina match. Using lessons gained from the moment, Andrews believes, will help Notre Dame refocus as a unit.
“A big part of that game was a learning experience,” Andrews said. “We were up 2-0 at the half, and we have to learn to keep that lead and to finish it off. You have to learn how to finish games, and we are definitely taking that competitive edge to the next level in learning that. At the same time, we are confident that we can play with the best in the league. In the end, the goal is to win a national championship. That was our goal (to start the season) and is still our goal.”
Andrews enjoyed a fast start to the 2014 slate, logging three assists in her first two games to help lead Notre Dame to a 3-1 win at Illinois (Aug. 22) and a 3-0 victory over Oakland (Aug. 24) at Alumni Stadium. She was on the doorstep with many great scoring opportunities during her first four games before finally finding the back of the net with the game-winning goal at Santa Clara (Sept. 5). Since then, the Fighting Irish midfielder has a team-high nine points in her past five appearances, and has become a virtual lock in the discussion for the TopDrawerSoccer.com Team of the Week every Tuesday.
“When I finished that goal (at Santa Clara), it gave me confidence that I didn’t quite have yet on the season,” Andrews said. “At the same time, just seeing my teammates happy for me and happy that we were winning that game, it just gave me confidence. I think I am still carrying that through the season.”
Her head coach, too, felt the momentum begin to build with Andrews’ initial breakthrough in the goal column out West.
“Any time you score a goal it gives you confidence,” Romagnolo said. “Morgan was playing well before that, she was in a position to score some goals but it just hadn’t happened for her. Now, she’s finding herself again in the right place at the right time, and she’s able to connect and put the ball in the back of the net. Right now, Morgan is in a really good rhythm.”
From an attacking midfield slot on the pitch, Andrews is able to push up into the opponent’s zone to make her more of a presence in the offensive execution. She is also adept at helping to control the pace of the offense and defense from a central location, effectively serving as the avenue for the run of play to pass through in both directions.
“When our team is playing well Morgan is a part of the great offense, and when we are defending as a team she is a huge part of breaking up plays in the midfield,” Romagnolo said. “Winning the 50-50 balls, picking up the second ball so we are able to possess.”
Andrews embraces her role in a versatile location in the Notre Dame lineup knowing that given the situation, she might find herself with a completely different objective to contribute to the team’s success.
“I think everyone is starting to realize that we are all in it for each other, and that we are a team,” Andrews said. “It’s not an individual effort that’s going to win a game for us. We are starting to realize that we have to put the puzzle pieces together and get each other forward. If that means our attacking mid has to sit back for our sitting mid to go forward, so be it. It’s basically doing what’s best for the team and sending people forward to get those goals.”
Extending pressure into the opposing 18-yard box has been an integral part in the development of the Fighting Irish offense this season, and Notre Dame has been rewarded for its persistence by drawing four penalty kick opportunities in nine matches. The Fighting Irish entered this season with only three combined penalty attempts since 2011, a span of 67 total matches.
Andrews has emerged as the team’s primary penalty taker during her past two games, scoring the game-winner against Toledo (Sept. 12) and the first goal of the North Carolina match from the spot. While a player might only have a few chances per year, at most, to even attempt a penalty kick in competition, Andrews has worked the scenario into her personal training plan.
“Being from New England I have always been a fan of Larry Bird, who played for the Boston Celtics, and he always took free shots and hit them one after the other,” Andrews said. “There were few people who could shoot like him, but that’s because he hit them day after day. I stay after practice and I work on my PKs, and I think that’s something that is kind of my own thing, a specialty of mine. It’s something I like to do and something I like to work on, so when the time comes I can finish them.”
Her impact on the box score from the showdown with North Carolina, a goal and an assist, will remain on the record for Andrews in the Notre Dame history books. The actions of her and her teammates, turning a negative into a positive after the game to give back to those who showed unwavering support during the ACC opener, might prove to have an even bigger impact.
“Hopefully those fans recognized that and come back to a few more games, and we will hopefully finish those off in a different way,” Andrews said. “It’s just knowing that you were once that little kid who looked up to those college players, and wanting to do for them what a college player might have done for you.”
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