The Wake Forest women's soccer team ended a long road trip with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against #4 Notre Dame last night. The game was a rematch of last year's second-round NCAA Tournament game, won by the Irish 2-1. Kendall Fischlein scored her first ever goal in a Wake Forest uniform to pull Wake back from a short-lived deficit in the second half.
The Irish came into the game off a pair of rousing performances, including a 5-0 win over a ranked Maryland team, as part of a perfect 5-0-0 start to conference play. Notre Dame also came in sporting one of the top defensive records in the country, having not conceded a goal since mid-September.
The #13 Deacs, on the other hand, had been struggling of late, with a pair of 1-0 losses to that same Maryland team and Boston College before a bounce-back 1-0 win over Syracuse on Sunday.
Notre Dame had the better of the first half, although neither side really generated a clear-cut missed opportunity. Wake seemed content to play balls over the top to Katie Stengel and try and build the attack from there, but were largely unsuccessful. As a result, Notre Dame accumulated a 9-3 shot advantage in the first half, although only one truly bothered keeper Aubrey Bledsoe: all-American Morgan Andrews played a cross in that found a diving Kayleigh Olmstead, but Olmstead's header from six yards out went straight to Bledsoe.
Indeed, Notre Dame' strategy in the first half appeared to be just that: playing lots of crosses into the box, but the strategy met with little success as the Deacon central defenders Caralee Keppler and Kim Marshall repeatedly proved their aerial superiority; very few crosses escaped the two or Bledsoe, who was quick to come off her line to punch balls away.
The Deacs' best chance in the first half came in the 39th minute, when Ally Berry found Stengel near the top of the box. Stengel took one touch and was able to turn and shoot - one of the few times Notre Dame gave her room to operate on the evening - but the shot was straight at Notre Dame goalie Kaela Little.
Halftime was accompanied by severe rain and a 75 minute weather delay. When play resumed, the Deacs looked much crisper, pressing higher up the field and causing more turnovers in areas that could quickly lead to counterattacks. Stengel, however, was constantly swarmed, and had very little luck in creating opportunities from these turnovers.
Notre Dame seemed to take the game by the scruff of the neck in the 76th minute. Olmstead took a ball out wide and played a low cross back to the penalty spot, where Irish midfielder Karin Simonian barely beat Megan Curran to the ball but slammed her shot past Bledsoe before the goalie could react.
However, Wake responded immediately. Riley Ridgik played a ball into space for Stengel to run on to, and after beating the first defender, Stengel picked an extremely deliberate pass all the way across the six yard box to an on-rushing Fischlein, who easily beat Little to knot the score less than 60 seconds after the initial goal.
The Deacons had the two best chances to go in front during the rest of regulation. In the 80th minute, Stengel hit a long shot that took a deflection off a Notre Dame defender's foot before hitting the crossbar. More controversially, pressure from Stengel and freshman Caroline Wootten nearly caused a disastrous error from the Irish defense in the 88th minute, as an Irish defender played a soft back-pass to Little. Little reached down to pick up the ball before realizing the illegality of the act and clearing. It was unclear to me whether Little actually touched the ball with her hand; if so, Wake should have been given a penalty. Wake coach Tony da Luz was incensed at the no-call and picked up a yellow card for his sideline demonstrations.
Still, it was not to be for the Deacs. While both teams were able to attack in the overtime periods, Notre Dame produced the best chance: a low cross that a sliding Olmstead was unable to control as the ball ricocheted over the goal from six yards.
The Deacs move to 8-2-2 overall, and 3-2-2 in conference, with a date against top-ranked Virginia looming next weekend in Spry Stadium.
***** Road Trip Review *****
With this result, the Deacs completed the aforementioned four-game road trip over the past few weeks. Links to WF Sports recaps are embedded.
On the whole, it was a disappointing trip, although the draw last night certainly salvaged the trip from outright disaster. I was expecting the Deacs to take 6 or 7 points from these games: Maryland and BC are both NCAA Tournament-caliber teams, while Syracuse is decidedly not (although they played Notre Dame even before losing on a goal with 3 seconds left), yet Wake was the better team on paper in each of these games. Still, getting 4 points out of the final 2 games is a good mark, especially considering the quality of this Notre Dame team; although getting 4 points from all 4 games is a significantly less positive result. It's a little disconcerting to know that Wake may have problems forcing a goal if they go down, but last night's performance assuaged those fears significantly. All things considered, I'd grade the Deacs a C- on this trip: not as good as should be expected, but not quite a complete disaster. Hopefully the ladies will spend a week recuperating from their travels and will be well-prepared for the Wahoos next Sunday.
***** ACC Standings *****
1. Florida State (5-0-2) - 17 points
2. Notre Dame (5-0-1) - 16
3. Virginia Tech (5-1-1) - 16
4. Virginia (5-0-0) - 15
5. Wake Forest (3-2-2) - 11
6. Clemson (3-2-1) - 10
7. North Carolina (3-2-0) - 9
8. Maryland (3-3-0) - 9
9. Boston College (3-4-0) - 9
10. Duke (1-3-2) - 5
11. Miami (1-4-0) - 3
12. NC State (1-6-0) - 3
13. Syracuse (0-5-1) - 1
14. Pitt (0-6-0) - 0
Thoughts: Obviously not all schedules are created equal at this point. Of the teams that I would consider to be top-notch teams (FSU, ND, VT, UVA, WF, UNC, and arguably Duke), here are how the schedules have played out thus far:
Top teams played: WF (0-0), Duke (win 2-1), UNC (win 1-0)
Remaining games: @Cuse, Pitt, MD, @VT, @UVA, ND
Top teams played: UNC (win 1-0), WF (1-1)
Remaining games: @Mia, @UVA, @VT, Duke, BC, @Clem, @FSU
Top teams played: UNC (loss 1-2), Duke (1-1)
Remaining games: ND, WF, @Pitt, FSU, Mia, @UVA
Top teams played: Duke (win 3-2)
Remaining games: Clem, ND, @WF, @NCSU, @UNC, Mia, FSU, VT
Top teams played: FSU (0-0), Duke (win 3-1), ND (1-1)
Remaining games: UVA, @VT, @Clem, Pitt, UNC, @NCSU
Top teams played: VT (win 2-1), ND (loss 0-1), FSU (loss 0-1)
Remaining games: MD, NCSU, @BC, Cuse, UVA, Clem, @WF, Duke
Top teams played: FSU (loss 1-2), WF (loss 1-3), UVA (loss 2-3), VT (1-1)
Remaining games: @BC, @MD, @Clem, @ND, NCSU, Pitt, @UNC
From this, we can basically see that the Virginia teams' schedules are back-loaded with big games. At this stage, I still think FSU's the horse to beat in this race, but I could see any team from the Virginia-UNC-Wake-ND quartet claiming second. I really expect UNC to make a push the remaining part of the season, as they get 5 of 7 at home over that period. I also think Wake has a good shot of snagging a top 4 spot, which would guarantee a game in Spry for the ACC Tournament. Wake still has a middling chance to get a top 2 seed, but it will require the Deacs taking care of business the rest of the way and a little bit of carnage among the other top teams. One thing that bodes well for the Deacs: draws against FSU and ND (which few other teams have managed) and the win against Duke indicate that the Deacs should once again be a very tough out come ACC and NCAA Tournament time.