The Wake Forest Demon Deacons women’s soccer team (9-4-2, 3-4 ACC) had one game last week, falling to No. 2 UNC (12-3, 5-2 ACC) 1-0 at Dorrance Field to drop below .500 in ACC play once again. It’s been an up and down recent spell for the Deacs, who haven’t won or lost consecutive games since winning three in a row against High Point, Oakland, and Maryland on the 1st, 4th, and 8th of September. But now with the regular season winding down, Wake is in desperate need of a big win. Now that Clemson and Auburn have found their way out of the rankings, the Deacs are without a ranked win, and Clemson is their only win against a likely NCAA Tournament team in a power conference. This week, they’re faced with their final opportunity to add substantive wins to their résumé, as they’ll face No. 8 UVA (10-2-3, 3-2-2 ACC) on the road tonight and No. 5 Notre Dame (12-2, 5-2 ACC) in their final home game of the regular season. A win in one of these games could be the difference between Wake getting into the tournament and their season ending in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts on October 27th. But before we look ahead to this monumental week, let’s take a look back at the Deacs’ loss last Friday.
Wake traveled to Chapel Hill last week to take on the No. 2 Tar Heels in a critical ACC matchup, and the Deacs were up to the challenge. The first half was more of a stalemate, with both teams relying on their strong midfields and backlines to get them a result in this game. There were very few chances for either side in the first 45 minutes with the exception of a big save from Kaitlyn Parks on a cutback to Rachel Jones. The two teams would go into the break tied at zero, but that score would not stick. UNC found a counterattacking opportunity early on in the second half, and they would earn a penalty kick when Caiya Hanks was judged to have driven her shoulder into the back of Maddie Dahlien. Tori Hansen would make no mistake at the spot, giving the Heels a 1-0 lead in the 48th minute. Wake responded well to the goal, though, coming out and causing some havoc with their press in the Tar Heel end. They would create some decent chances, but, ultimately, they couldn’t score any of them, and Carolina would see out the result to issue Wake’s fourth loss of the season. While the Tar Heels did get the win here, for me, the player of the game was Emily Morris, who was just so active and positive for the Deacs even in a tough loss where they struggled to create dangerous chances.
The Deacs will have to move on quickly from this result, as they’re faced with a pair of difficult challenges this week. First, they’re tasked with one of the most difficult road trips in the country, making their way up to Klöckner Stadium in Charlottesville for a midweek matchup against UVA. The ‘Hoos have long been one of the best teams in the country, only having never posted a losing season in program history. This year has been no different, as head coach Steve Swanson has put together another top ten team with ACC and NCAA title aspirations. It is Swanson’s 22nd season in Charlottesville, and he has been the most successful coach in the history of the program, posting a 357-103-56 record and winning both of the Cavaliers’ ACC titles. The ‘Hoos have never won fewer than 10 games under Swanson, and they’ve done so by being a physical, professional, organized team. This year is no different, as they’ve once again reached ten wins on the basis of their strong spine, recording nine shutouts and allowing only 10 goals up until this point. However, UVA has faltered in its past few games, posting an 0-1-2 record in their last three games, giving up six goals in a span that included a 1-0 loss to No. 4 FSU and two stunning, high scoring draws to Syracuse (2-2) and Virginia Tech (3-3). Wake has historically been dominated by UVA, who hold a 20-7-4 advantage in the all-time series, including a 1-0 victory at Spry last season. The Deacs haven’t defeated the ‘Hoos since 2012, but now with their backs against the wall, they’ll almost certainly need to find a big result here.
Wake returns home to Spry on Sunday, where they’ll take on the No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Deacs’ home finale. Notre Dame was a team that was similarly situated to Wake over the past few years, a typically strong program that was struggling to find its feet after a short spell of mediocrity. The Irish are on the other side of this tunnel, though, as they’ve followed up a 14-6-2 season that included their first ACC Tournament appearance since 2017 with a 12-2 start that has them in position to qualify for the ACC Tournament once again and to host throughout the NCAA Tournament. Nate Norman is at the wheel of the ship for Notre Dame and is spearheading a turnaround for one of the great programs in the history of college soccer. The Irish have three national titles to their name, the most recent being in 2010, but after the departure of Randy Waldrum, who won two of those three, in 2013, Notre Dame haven’t made it beyond the Sweet Sixteen.
Following Waldrum’s departure, the Irish hired former Dartmouth head coach Theresa Romagnolo, who would resign after four seasons marked by postseason failure. Norman stepped into the breach in 2018 after serving as an assistant coach on the staff for a season, and, after a rocky start, he has brought Notre Dame back to national prominence, having accumulated a 51-33-4 record in South Bend, and a 26-8-2 record since the beginning of last season. Last season was a pleasant surprise for the Irish, who were one of the ACC’s elite after a 6-7 finish in the Covid-split 2020-21 season. They’ve made the next step this year, remaining the offensive juggernaut that they were last season with 35 goals in their 14 games so far, but also improving defensively, allowing 8 goals to this point. The Deacs suffered a defeat in the last game between these two teams in a game that was ultimately meaningless for both, as they had each already qualified for the ACC Tournament. It was a 2-1 win for the Irish in wet conditions, with a second half equalizer by Sofia Rossi being wiped out by a late goal direct from a corner in the late stages of the match. Notre Dame has an 8-2-1 mark against Wake all time, and a 3-1 mark under Norman. Wake can pay no mind to history, though, as they can all but secure an NCAA Tournament berth with a victory in this game.
Tonight’s game against UVA is scheduled for a 7:00 kickoff, and the game against Notre Dame is scheduled for 5:00 on Sunday. Both games will be shown on ACC Network Extra and ESPN+.