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What To Watch For: Wright State

Aug. 19, 2016

By Joanne Norell

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The Notre Dame women’s soccer team kicks off the season with its first homestand of 2016, welcoming Wright State and Wisconsin to Alumni Stadium this weekend.

The Irish return four full-time starters from a team that posted a 14-5-1 record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Championship in 2015. Goalkeeper Kaela Little, midfielder Sandra Yu and forward Kaleigh Olmsted will offer the most experience for the Irish while also serving as first-time captains, while defender Monica Flores offers the next-most starting experience.

Thus, the Irish will look toward a young core to step up and make an impact on both sides of the ball. With the exception of Flores, the Irish will see a whole new backline anchored by sophomore Rachel Heard and junior Ginny McGowan in the central positions and sophomore Natalie Ward at right back. Junior Taylor Klawunder will take on an expanded role in the midfield, with freshman Alexis Martel-Lamothe also seeing time in the middle. Up front, Olmsted will be joined by a combination of high-scoring freshman Jen Westendorf and juniors Meghan Doyle, Karin Muya and Kaitlin Klawunder.

WHAT: Match 1
WHO: No. 13 Notre Dame (0-0-0) vs. Wright State (0-0-0)
WHERE: Alumni Stadium – Notre Dame, Ind.
WHEN: 7:00 p.m. (ET) – August 19, 2016
LIVE STREAM: ACC Network Extra

Below, see the five things you need to know as the Irish meet Wright State in the season opener:

Scouting Wright State
The Raiders enter Friday’s contest hoping to ride their 2015 season-ending hot streak in which they went unbeaten in five of their last seven games, advancing to the Horizon League Championship. Wright State went 9-8-2 overall in 2015.

The Raiders return four defenders from last year’s squad that surrendered just 17 goals in 19 games in Niki Romero, Paige Aguilera, Madison McKinney and Kaeli Studebaker, but will have a new-look offense as 71 percent (17 of 24 goals) of their offense graduated.

Wright State went 1-0-1 in two exhibition contests, defeating Western Carolina 2-0 and drawing with Eastern Kentucky 3-3.

The Last Time They Met
The Irish are 5-0-0 all-time against Wright State, though the Irish and Raiders haven’t met since 1994. In that meeting, Notre Dame defeated Wright State 7-0 in the Midwest Collegiate Conference Championship quarterfinal in Indianapolis. Notre Dame finished as MCC runner-up that season, boasting a 23-1-1 record just one year before capturing its first NCAA Championship crown.

Last Season
The usually staunch Irish defense was once again a force, allowing just 0.55 goals per game en route to a 14-5-1 record and a No. 15 end-of-year NSCAA ranking.

The Irish boasted a quartet of all-conference talent, with seniors Cari Roccaro, Katie Naughton and Anna Maria Gilbertson earning second-team honors, while freshman Natalie Jacobs snared all-freshman team accolades.

Roccaro was named to the NSCAA All-America Third Team for her second career All-America Honor, while Naughton and Gilbertson earned All-Southeast Region recognition. Both Roccaro and Naughton were chosen in the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League College Draft in January.

Gilbertson led the 2015 Irish with a career high 29 points (13 goals, 3 assists), and Jacobs chipped in 13 points (4 goals, 5 assists) as the team’s second-leading scorer. Goalkeeper Kaela Little posted a career-best 0.55 goals against average, good for third among ACC goalkeepers, and her seven solo shutouts were good for fifth in the league in 2015.

Preseason Outlook
The Irish enter the season ranked at No. 13 in the NSCAA preseason poll after finshing at No. 15 in 2015. They are one of seven ACC teams to appear in the poll, with the conference boasting the most top 25 teams in the country.

A poll of ACC coaches picked the Irish to finish sixth in the league, which this season would not preclude them from competing for an ACC Championship. The conference tournament will be expanded from four teams to eight this season, with the quarterfinal round taking place at campus sites and the semifinal and final taking place at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, which will once again host the 2016 NCAA Women’s College Cup. The Irish, though, will look to shatter expectations with a dynamic group of veterans and newcomers.

Off On The Right Foot
Notre Dame holds a 24-3-1 (.875) record in season openers, including a 15-1-1 (.912) record on the road. In addition, the Fighting Irish have carried a 14-2-1 (.853) mark in season openers since 1999, outscoring the opposition by a 78-11 margin in those 17 matches (28-4 in the past 10 matches).

— ND —

Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2014 and coordinates communications efforts for the Notre Dame women’s soccer, men’s tennis, women’s tennis and fencing programs. Norell is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, and earned her master’s degree in sports industry management from Georgetown University in 2013.