Aug. 20, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Gearing up for a match comes second nature for second-year University of Notre Dame women’s soccer head coach Theresa Romagnolo.
When asked to look ahead to the coming season and pick out which contests might result in added excitement in the days leading up to it or require extra focus or preparation, Romagnolo did not hesitate in asserting that when it comes to the goals she has set for the 2015 Fighting Irish, they all matter.
This attitude, perhaps more than anything, is what Romagnolo hopes to impart on her squad as they embark on the new year. This season’s lineup should be filled with tough, assertive and motivated student-athletes who play with what Romagnolo calls a sense of urgency. Who, no matter the opponent, shoot out of the pen with a will to win.
“I want us to be a team that attacks every opportunity that we have,” Romagnolo said. “So, it doesn’t matter who we play. When we step on the field, we go out there to be the best Notre Dame team we can be.”
Once again, the Irish are well-positioned to make a deep run into the postseason, returning a deep and talented core of upperclassmen and welcoming in a strong freshman class. Ranked No. 9 to start the season by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, the 2015 Irish will look to build upon last season’s 14-6-2 campaign that ended with a third-round loss to No. 5 Texas A&M in the third round of the NCAA Championship.
THE IRISH BY POSITION
The Irish will look to build out of the backfield again this season, which will once again be anchored by seniors Cari Roccaro and Katie Naughton. With stability and leadership from its two preseason All-ACC picks, Notre Dame hopes to uphold its reputation as a stingy unit that allowed just 0.82 goals per game last season.
Roccaro provides versatility for the Irish, with the ability to play all over the field. A two-time All-ACC First Team selection and team captain, Roccaro has started all 55 matches she has played in an Irish kit and has a proven ability to score in addition to her defensive prowess. For the third season in a row, Roccaro will enter the year on the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list for the nation’s best collegiate player.
Naughton was a second-team All-ACC pick a season ago and will pick up the captain’s mantle for the third straight season. Naughton has started all 67 matches she’s played for the Irish, and will return after winning a bevy of weekly honors last season and scoring a career high four goals.
“We’ve got a handful of players that can all play center back and do a very good job,” Romagnolo said. “We’ve got a lot of outside backs who’ve got good feet, who can attack for us, but also be great defenders. I think the back line will be experienced, athletic and technical, which is great for us because we’re looking to build out of the back.”
Notre Dame hopes to be much more active in the midfield this season as senior captain Glory Williams takes over up the middle and will be joined by junior Sandra Yu and sophomore Sabrina Flores, who will move up after playing left back a season ago.
Williams will offer strong, vocal leadership up the spine for the Irish, and will help fuel the transition attack. Yu returns after missing 2014 with an injury, while Flores brings both youth and experience after starting all 22 games for the Irish last season, the only freshman to do so.
“It’s changed the way we play, to be honest, with that move,” Romagnolo said of Flores’ transition to the midfield. “Her ability to set people up, go to goal, it’s like having five attacking players with her and Sandra Yu in there. It gives us a lot of mobility in there.
“They’re very technical. They’re creative players and I think they’re going to be very involved in the attack, but also be very good two-way players.”
The 2015 Irish attack looks to be much more active this season after averaging 1.64 goals per game last season. To do so, it will have to feed off the activity of the defense and midfield, which it did during its preseason slate, outscoring Iowa State and Illinois 10-0.
Senior Anna Maria Gilbertson is the top returning goal-scorer for the Irish after notching four goal tallies last year (along with Naughton), while junior Kaleigh Olmsted joins Gilbertson as 10-point scorers returning from last season. The veterans will be joined by talented freshman Natalie Jacobs, who has been active with the youth national teams and came in ranked No. 6 in the Top Drawer Soccer Girls IMG Academy 150 player rankings.
“On the front line, we have a lot of people who can score goals,” Romagnolo said “I think it’ll be interesting to see who steps up this season. That’s one big question mark for us, is we’re going to see who’s going to emerge. Who wants to be that goal scorer for us, or goal-scorers?”
The Irish are down to two goalkeepers on the roster after harboring five last season, though both remaining Irish net-minders saw action last season. Junior Kaela Little returns after playing 95 percent of the Irish minutes in goal in 2014, while Romagnolo said sophomore Lexi Nicholas can challenge for time as well.
Little posted a career best 0.74 goals against average last season, allowing just 16 goals to 72 saves for an .818 saves percentage. She posted 12 shutouts on the season while amassing a 14-5-2 record, but will be returning from a spring injury.
Nicholas made one start last season in a loss to USC, but started both of the Irish exhibition contests and looked solid.
“We’re very fortunate to have two fantastic goalkeepers on this roster and we have the ability to put either one in goal and either one is going to get the job done for us,” Romagnolo said. “Ultimately, it’s going to be a battle over the course of the season, like it always is, and I’m excited to see how it unfolds.”
Notre Dame kicks off the 2015 slate Friday when it welcomes Valparaiso to Alumni Stadium, and will then take on Toledo on Sunday. The Irish last met the Crusaders in the first round of last season’s NCAA Championship, where they scored in the 89th minute to capture a 1-0 win.
The Irish host the Notre Dame Invitational August 28-30 at Alumni Stadium and will take on Santa Clara and Portland in Friday-Sunday action. They’ll hit the road for contests with Western Michigan (Sept. 4) and Michigan State (Sept. 6), then wrap up the non-conference schedule against Indiana (Sept. 11) and Michigan (Sept. 13) at home.
After traveling to Clemson (Sept. 19) for a one-match weekend in the ACC opener, the Irish will head face to national runner-up Virginia (Sept. 24) and turn around and come home to tangle with defending national champion Florida State (Sept. 27) in the same weekend. They’ll head to Miami (Oct. 2) for another one-off road trip, then come home for three matches with Syracuse (Oct. 8), Boston College (Oct. 11) and Wake Forest (Oct. 16). Notre Dame will take its final road trip of the season to face North Carolina (Oct. 22) and Duke (Oct. 25) in the Triangle, then come home for Senior Day against Virginia Tech (Oct. 30).
The ACC Championship will take place November 6 & 8 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., while the NCAA Championship will kick off on November 13 with first round action at campus sites.
“Every game is extremely important and we want to attack every opportunity we have to step on the field,” Romagnolo said. “We don’t want to hold back and assess the opponent. We want to step on the field and just go at teams.”
Season and single game tickets for Notre Dame women’s soccer are on sale now. Visit und.com/tickets or call the Murnane Family Ticket Office at 574-631-7356.
Joanne Norell, Athletics Communications Assistant