Freshman forward Crystal Thomas (Elgin, Ill./Wheaton Academy) scored with 19:35 remaining to lift No. RV/23 Notre Dame to a 2-1 victory over No. 10/12 (and third-seeded) Wake Forest in the second round of the NCAA Championship on Friday night at Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
With the win, Notre Dame will face either No. 8/10 (and second-seeded) Florida or No. 18 Central Florida in a round-of-16 match at 1 p.m. (ET) Sunday at Pressly Stadium (live stats and video stream available at NCAA.com, UND.com or gatorzone.com). The Gators and Knights were playing Friday’s late match, with the result not complete at press time.
Thomas perfectly timed her run to gather in a chip over the top by junior midfielder/tri-captain Mandy Laddish (Lee’s Summit, Mo./Lee’s Summit), just beating Wake Forest goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe to the ball at the top right of the box. Thomas then rounded the sprawling netminder and deftly tucked her 12-yard shot inside the far left post for her 10th goal of the season.
Freshman forward Cari Roccaro (East Islip, N.Y./East Islip) scored the tying goal for Notre Dame (15-5-2) in the 59th minute, capping a set piece that featured three Fighting Irish rookies. Freshman defender Brittany Von Rueden (Mequon, Wis./Divine Savior Holy Angels) served a dangerous corner kick from the right flag, with another freshman, midfielder Glory Williams (Dallas, Texas/Lake Highlands) who settled the ball at the penalty spot with a quick pass to Roccaro on the right edge of the six-yard box. Roccaro then alertly poked ashot through traffic into the Demon Deacons’ net for her first NCAA Championship goal (and sixth of the season).
Freshman goalkeeper Elyse Hight (Edmond, Okla./Bishop McGuinness) earned the victory in the Notre Dame net, registering two saves and expertly commanding the penalty area from a series of late crosses by Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons (14-6-3) finished with a 9-6 edge in total shots, including a 3-2 margin in shots on goal. Wake Forest also earned a 7-4 advantage on corner kicks, while the Fighting Irish were whistled for 10 of the 16 fouls in the match (as well as the lone yellow card).
“We certainly want to say congratulations to Wake Forest,” Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum said. “What a great year they had and they are a fantastic team. It was a really big win for us and we are extremely proud of the way our kids came out after halftime. A few adjustments were made and we are just happy to move on with the young group.
“I think at halftime we were a little disappointed that we did not get more in the first half, but I felt like the most dangerous opportunities they had were off some corners that we gave up,” Waldrum added. “At halftime, we just made the conscious decision to say, ‘let’s go ahead and go for this now, instead of wait.’ We just needed to be able to keep the ball and be a little bit better in the offensive forward. I thought as soon as that happened, Cari Roccaro really did a good job of keeping the ball for us. Then we gained from the move to rotate and put Crystal Thomas back in. One of the things we talked about on the sideline is ‘she is our leading scorer this year, let’s get her back on.’ I thought she had a much better second half for us.”
Wake Forest had the first strong chance of the match in the eighth minute, coming off their third corner kick in the early going. Jackie Logue rose high to meet the service from the right side, driving a header that was tipped by Hight and then swept off the line by Thomas. The rebound caromed out to Kim Marshall near the top of the box, but her shot clipped the outside of the right post and went over the touch line for a goal kick (7:30).
The balance of the first half was played in the middle third, with both sides have their fair share of possession. Notre Dame’s best foray of the opening 45 minutes came when junior midfielder/tri-captain Elizabeth Tucker (Jacksonville,Fla./Bishop Kenny) found sophomore midfielder Karin Simonian (Westbury, N.Y./W.T. Clarke) on an overlapping run down the right edge of the area. Simonian then curled a cross that was deflected back to her for a second service, this time towards the heart of the penalty box. Tucker had continued her run and found space for her own sharpheader, but it went wide to the right (37:10).
The Demon Deacons finally broke the ice in the 43rd minute, starting with Alisha Woodson, who made a timely run down the left flank before sending a pass back towards the top of the attacking third. Katie Stengel chipped the Fighting Irish back line, and Hight came hard off her line to try and grab the ball near the top of the penalty area. However, the ball checked up just enough for Kristen Meier to run on to it and chip it over the onrushing Notre Dame goalkeeper and into the vacated net (42:33).
After Waldrum pushed Roccaro up to the front line and brought Williams into the holding midfield spot at halftime, the Fighting Irish offense took on a renewed spirit in the second half. Roccaro got her first look on frame in the 54th minute, trying to catch Bledsoe off her line with a long 30-yard shot from the right channel, but the ball sailed wide left.
A little more than five minutes later at 58:50, Roccaro drew Notre Dame level with her close-range finish off the Von Rueden corner kick. That score not only energized the youthful Fighting Irish, butalso sent a buzz through the solid contingent of Notre Dame faithful in thecrowd at Pressly Stadium.
Waldrum inserted Thomas back in the lineup in the 67th minute and it was readily apparent the rookie striker was chomping at the bit to make her presence known, immediately harassing the Wake Forest defense into a corner kick. Thus, it came as no surprise four minutes later (at 70:25) when Thomas found herself in the right place at the right time, racing on to Laddish’s chip and showing the composure of a wily veteran to become the first Notre Dame rookie to score double-figure goals in a season since 2008 (and send the Fighting Irish on to the next round).