The Fighting Irish came to Klockner Stadium missing three midfielders and had to face the #1 Cavaliers’ possession offense. It wasn’t a fair fight, really.
It was Senior Night and we honored three quarters of our back line – Phoebe McClernon, Courtney Petersen, and Zoe Morse – and striker Megan McCool. The festivities must have struck a chord because all four of them played superlative games.
Petersen set the tone all game long. I have never thought she was particularly fast, but I have been impressed with her speed the past half dozen games. It is like she has added another gear. For the first goal she simply blew by her defender before making her trademark cross, this time to Meg McCool who one-touched the ball past her marker before coolly – get it? – sliding the ball past the keeper.
Zoe Morse was her usual beast of herself, denying everything that came into her area, and Phoebe McClernon had her best game at right back. If there has been a disappointment to this season, it has been watching the degradation of McClernon’s game as she has lost her central spot to freshman Talia Staude.
The defense again came up big all game long. Three weeks ago, Notre Dame travelled to Chapel Hill to face UNC, and they dominated the first half before the depth of the Tar Heels overwhelmed the Irish. The 90+ weather may have also played a role. Today, on a cool, rainy day, the heat wasn’t going to be a factor, and for the first 15 minutes, Notre Dame attacked with numbers and pressed UVa as well as any team has all season. Though they may have controlled the run of play, Notre Dame wasn’t able to get a single shot, and their best-looking opportunity was snuffed out beautifully by Staude. For the game, the Irish would only have one shot on goal, and no, it wasn’t taken from within the box.
After McCool’s goal – her 10th on the season – Notre Dame wilted. At half time head coach Nate Norman said all the right things about his team coming out and playing with renewed energy, the game was still close, they just needed a better final ball. In other words, he said all the things that losing coaches say. This game wasn’t in doubt after McCool’s goal. The only real concern was that winger Becca Jarrett didn’t start the second half. She took a serious knock in the Florida State game last week, and she came up limping once in the first half. If she were to be really hurt, that would have put a damper to the Senior Night celebrations. But my worries were for nought as Jarrett re-entered the game and eventually scored the third goal. Freshman Diana Ordonez, breaking her 2-game drought, had a fine finish for her 13th goal of the season. Perhaps she wanted to show that she could be just as clinical as McCool.
Coach Steve Swanson has been very conservative this season, and has fielded pretty much the same lineup all year. One tweak of the lineup, that has always been available to him (if rarely used) is to insert Claire Constant as a holding midfielder to either give Taryn Torres a break (and she has to be the hardest running player on the team) or to allow her to play wide (which is where she started in her UVa career.) Constant got that assignment today in the second half. She’s a ball winner, but boy, does she reprise the Claude Makelele role in its entirety: she doesn’t advance the ball much. Moving Torres to left midfield allowed Alexa Spaanstra to play some right wing. I would like to see more of that because she has been a ghost of her former self the past half dozen games. Spaanstra has nice touch, an explosive change of pace, and she reads the game like Tom Brady. If Virginia is going to make a serious run to the College Cup, we will need more than we’ve been getting from Spaanstra. So if playing Constant as the holding mid is what it takes to give Spaanstra some time on the wing, count me in. I’m all for it.
Up Next: Louisville on Thursday. The Cardinals have risen to #14 in the country, and apart from one loss to UNC have performed solidly in the ACC: they’ve beaten Clemson while tying Duke and this same Notre Dame team. I thought McCool had her best game of the season against Louisville last year, but she’s been much more prolific this season. Hopefully her goal scoring streak will continue.