PISCATAWAY, N.J. — No. 18 UConn women’s soccer is heading to the NCAA Tournament third round for the first time since 2007 after defeating No. 10 Notre Dame 2-0 Friday night.
Junior forward Rachel Hill gave the Huskies the lead in the 59th minute after UConn endured a barrage of shots from the Fighting Irish throughout the first half.
In the play that gave the Huskies the lead, senior forward Liana Hinds fired a shot from 30 yards out, but Notre Dame goalkeeper Kaela Little deflected it. However, Little’s deflection landed right in front of the goal, and Hill charged from the center of the box to drive it in the net.
“(Hinds) pushed really hard,” head coach Len Tsantiris said. “She started moving in the second half. Her speed, she went for it, and it was a good ball. She always serves the ball really well. The goalkeeper misplayed it and, of course, you’ve got Rachel, whose very opportunistic, to go for everything. She was right there.”
Hill scored again in the 83rd minute to seal the 2-0 win for the Huskies at Yurcak Field in Piscataway, New Jersey.
While the Fighting Irish (14-5-1, 6-4 ACC) outshot the Huskies (19-3-0, 8-1 American) by a 15-7 margin, UConn hit the shots that counted the most.
“They probably had possession 90 percent of the game, but what matters is when the ball did get up the there, and we had our chance, we put it away,” Hill said. “That was very important.”
Notre Dame held the ball for most of the game and kept the pressure around the edge of UConn’s box. The Fighting Irish managed nine shots in the first half alone and added another six in the second half. Junior goalkeeper Emily Armstrong finished with five saves in what was arguably her strongest all-around performance of the season.
Hill said Armstrong’s leadership throughout the game helped the Huskies maintain composure, crediting her ability to keep the team organized and calm. Tsantiris said Armstrong was decisive in critical situations.
“(Armstrong) came up big a couple of times – big time,” Tsantiris said. “Especially in the second half, she came up. She came off her line to get the ball on the corner kicks. They were very dangerous. She was there.”
Armstrong said going into Friday’s game she wanted to “have some fun” and finished the match with what she considered one of her best performances.
Tsantiris said a complete defensive effort kept the Huskies in the game. He said the team succeeded because they never let any Notre Dame players in front of the goal alone with the ball, forcing shots from farther out.
Armstrong said the defense did not even want to let them come close to the net.
“We just owned our area and prevented any opportunities from occurring,” Armstrong said. “I think that’s a big word: ‘prevent.’ They didn’t have any crazy shots on goal because we did what we could to prevent them from getting those opportunities off by just having really good positioning, communication and hard work.”
Hill said the team was motivated by “a lot of people doubting us” going into the game. Notre Dame was the No. 3 seed in the region and held a 22-5-4 record against the Huskies before Friday night.
Scoring first put the Huskies in a strong position to win, Tsantiris said. The Fighting Irish spent more than 30 minutes chasing the Huskies’ lead in the second half, leading them to take lower percentage shots on goal.
Tsantiris, Hill and Armstrong all said they believe UConn has the capability to defeat No. 2-seeded Rutgers in Sunday’s game should the Scarlet Knights advance against Hofstra in their 7 p.m. game Friday.
The Huskies lost to No. 9 Rutgers 2-0 earlier this season on Sept. 13 at Yurcak Field, where they would play on in the potential matchup Sunday. Tsantiris said the Scartlet Knights have the ability to beat UConn again, but said his team would be fine if they play with the mentality and intensity they had against Notre Dame.
Armstrong was even more confident about the possible rematch.
“If we come out playing like this, I’m extremely confident in being able to beat them,” Armstrong said. “We’ve come together as a team from the beginning of the season, and I’m so confident in this team we have right here. The leadership, the teamwork – I’m really excited for Sunday.”