N.C. State falls to Fighting Irish in conference opener

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Posted: Friday, September 13, 2013 12:24 am

The N.C. State women’s soccer team took the field against No. 8 Notre Dame, the highest-ranked opponent it has faced this season, on Thursday night and fell 3-1 in the ACC opener for both teams.

The game was delayed for about 45 minutes due to lightning in the area.

The Wolfpack drew first blood about five minutes into the game on a bizarre play. Following a foul on the Irish, junior defender Shelli Spamer took a free kick from midfield and booted it toward the goal. Several players from both teams went up for the header but Notre Dame goalkeeper Kaela Little mishandled the ball and it trickled into the side of the net to give the Pack an early 1-0 advantage.

“Our whole strategy for free kicks is to put it on the goal,” Spamer said. “That’s what we did, and I don’t think [Little] was ready for it.”

The Fighting Irish tied it 10 minutes later off of a free kick. Crystal Thomas came out of a mad scramble in front of the net to rebound a miss by teammate Lauren Bohaboy and beat State freshman keeper Mackenzie Stelljes. The freshman keeper totaled four saves in the half.

Notre Dame gained the lead in the 27th minute on a goal by Karin Simonian off of an assist by Thomas. They nearly doubled their lead a minute later but Stelljes made a nifty sliding save off an Irish shot.

“We gave up a couple bad goals in the first half,” head coach Tim Santoro said. “[Notre Dame] put a lot of pressure on us.”

Freshman forward Jackie Stengel had a chance to tie the game for the Pack shortly before halftime, but her shot from just outside the box sailed over the crossbar. Stengel led the Pack with three shots for the game. For the half, State registered five shots compared to nine for the Fighting Irish.

“We didn’t do very well with balls in the box,” Santoro said. “And we didn’t deal with first or second clearances. It was disappointing.”

The second half started slowly, with neither team threatening until 20 minutes in. The Wolfpack had a chance to tie the match as junior midfielder Jessica Baity weaved her way around the Notre Dame defense and fired a shot from 15 yards out. However, her shot was punched over the net by Little, who recorded three saves on the night.

A few minutes later, the Irish nearly extended their lead once again as Bohaboy broke through the State defense after receiving a through ball, but Stelljes charged out of the net and knocked the ball away to keep the Pack within striking distance for the time being. Stelies finished with eight saves on 22 Notre Dame shots. State finished with eight total shots.

“We went into the game knowing we can compete with them,” Spamer said. “It wasn’t a bad performance, but obviously it’s not good that we lost.”

But Notre Dame kept attacking and eventually tallied its third goal with 15 minutes left when Sammy Schofield beat Stelljes from inside the box off a feed from Mandy Laddish. The Irish defense held from there as they took home the win in their ACC debut.

Santoro pointed to Notre Dame’s superior depth as a reason for their performance. The Irish substituted seven players in during the game compared to just one for State.

“We’re a little undermanned,” Santoro said. “They were able to play more players and they were a little deeper towards the end.”

The match concluded the Wolfpack’s six-game home stand. State will return to action on Sunday as they travel to ACC foe Pittsburgh for a 1 p.m. contest. Its next home game is on Sept. 26 against Virginia Tech.

“We’re not in it for moral victories,” Santoro said. “need to win games. We’re gonna get back at it on Sunday and win.”