Road to the College Cup: No. 1 Notre Dame thrashes Omaha in NCAA tournament opener

Justin Frommer
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The snow and freezing temperatures didn't slow the Notre Dame women's soccer team in its NCAA Tournament opener Saturday afternoon at Alumni Stadium.

The top-seeded Irish rolled over unseeded Omaha, 5-0, advancing to the second round of the 64-team tourney to be played Friday, Nov. 18 in South Bend against No. 8 Santa Clara, a 1-0 winner over California Saturday. The Broncos won the national title in 2020.

"I thought the start of it was really good," Notre Dame head coach Nate Norman said of the game. "(Omaha is) a good team. If you leave those teams in it for long periods of time, they gain confidence and it becomes tighter. It was a good start and I think we just handled the game comfortably as it wore on. We finished strong, too."

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Notre Dame's performance was worthy of a team with dreams of winning its first NCAA Women's College Cup title since 2010 as the five goals were its most in a game this year.

The Irish dominated the first 10 minutes, screaming to a 3-0 lead and coasting after that before adding two more goals in the final 10 minutes. Notre Dame outshot the Mavericks, making their NCAA Tournament debut, 26-3.

Omaha’s Grace Ostergaard (5) attempts to take the ball from Notre Dame’s Korbin Albert (2) in the first half Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, at Alumni Stadium.

"I think we could have scored even more," said sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert. "But a 5-0 win is also great.

"We started off well and after 15 minutes went by, we took the gas off a little bit," she continued. In order to win the next games we need to step it up a little more."

Albert, Notre Dame's leading scorer with 14 goals in 19 games, gave the Irish a 1-0 lead six minutes into the match. Olivia Wingate, Notre Dame's second-leading scorer with 13 goals in 20 games, added a second in the 8th minute and a third the 10th.

Notre Dame’s Maddie Mercado (3) in action in the second half against Omaha Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, at Alumni Stadium.

The Irish didn't get on the board again until the 81st minute when Maddie Mercado scored, which was followed by a Paige Peltier goal three minutes later to account for the final.

The performance fell three goals short of the program's eight-goal tournament game record set in 1997.

The Irish have a long history of success in the NCAA tournament, advancing to the final eight times between 1994 and 2010 and winning it all in 1995, 2004 and 2010.

Notre Dame’s Olivia Wingate (9) celebrates after a goal with Brianna Martinez (16) who provided an assist in the first half against Omaha Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, at Alumni Stadium.

"I think there were times we just got away from our main identities of moving the ball fast, and started relying on longer balls," Norman said. "We also want to be the best pressing team in the country and we got to fly to the ball. Sometimes we were just going 80-90% at the ball and we need to have that intensity to make teams uncomfortable for the whole entire time."

Newman will take those complaints if his team is able to put five in the back of the net, even against lesser competition.

Much of Notre Dame's success this season has been predicated on stout defense and the goalkeeping of 2018 Penn High School graduate Mackenzie Wood who has 37 saves this season after transferring from Northwestern.

Notre Dame goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood (1) makes a save in the second half against Omaha Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, at Alumni Stadium.

The offensive explosion was a pleasant development for a unit that scored more than three goals just three times this year. Notre Dame knows opposing defenses will be better and more compact going forward than what Omaha showed. But if its top players are clicking as they were against the Mavericks, it may not matter.

Such a combination of offense and defense makes the Irish a "really dangerous" team, Albert said.

"That is what we did today," she said, "and we got the result."