By Terry Boehmker
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Notre Dame Pandas will get a rematch with the team that beat them in the championship game of last year’s girls’ state soccer tournament.
Notre Dame advanced to the semifinals of this year’s playoffs with a 4-0 win over Russell on Saturday at Lexington Lafayette High School.
The Pandas’ next opponent will be defending state champion Lexington Tates Creek, a 2-1 winner over Notre Dame in a penalty kick shootout at last year’s title game. The rematch is set for 8 p.m. Thursday at Lexington Dunbar High School.
“We have the same approach to very game where we come out with the same intensity and play as hard as we can no matter who it is,” said Notre Dame senior Maddie Tierney. “But I think personally a lot of us are pumped up about playing Tates Creek again.”
Tates Creek (21-4-3) is one of the highest scoring teams in the state with 111 goals in 28 games. But Notre Dame (22-2-3) has given up only nine goals all season and posted shutouts against 20 of its 27 opponents.
“We’re excited,” Notre Dame coach Sara McSorley said of the matchup. “Any team in the final four is really hard to beat so it’ll be an exciting day on Thursday in both semifinal matches. But, yeah, we’re definitely excited to see (Tates Creek) again.”
Notre Dame posted its ninth consecutive shutout in Saturday’s quarterfinal match by limiting Russell to just one shot on goal.
But the Pandas had a hard time getting their offensive attack on track. Both of their goals in the first half came on corner kicks taken by Tierney. The first one was scored by freshman Christin Sherrard in the fifth minute and the second one was a header by senior midfielder Zoe Stovik in the 17th minute.
“We do score a lot off corners because we’re good at finishing and following the ball,” Tierney said. “That’s something that we can normally take advantage of if we’re not clicking on the field, which we weren’t in the first half.”
The Pandas attacked the goal much better in the second half, but it still took them nearly 20 minutes to put the ball in the net against Russell senior goalkeeper Jayln Forsyth, who made several nice saves.
Notre Dame junior striker Mandy Arnzen finally got her team’s third goal by trapping a loose ball near the middle of the penalty box and kicking it past Forsyth.
In the 66th minute, the Pandas extended their lead to 4-0 when Forsyth kicked the ball away from in front of the goal and it rolled to Anna Eckerle, who chipped a shot over the goalkeeper’s head.
Those were two of the nine shots on goal the Pandas got during the second half after getting just five shots in first half, including the two goals off corner kicks
“We just re-grouped at halftime and said, ‘Hey, this has got to be a different game in the second half,’” McSorley said. “I think our composure was key in the second half, and I think that’s what was missing in the first. You could tell by the quality of attacks we were able to get in.”
Now the Pandas can focus their attention on Thursday’s rematch against a high-scoring Tates Creek team led by senior striker Mallory Eubanks, a Mississippi State recruit. She got her 33rd goal of the season Saturday during Tates Creek’s 7-0 win over Lawrence County.
“They’re definitely potent in the attack,” McSorley said. “Mallory Eubanks is a player to watch, but she also makes the other players around her that much batter. So it’s not just one player in their attack, they’re well balanced. It’s definitely something we’re going to be ready for and we’re excited to play against them.”
HALFTIME: 2-0. GOALS: ND–Sherrard, Stovik, Arnzen, Eckerle. SHUTOUT: Hansel and Kim (1 save). RECORDS: Notre Dame 22-2-3, Russell 18-6-1.