By John Lachmann
NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. – Notre Dame’s top goal scorers this season were the Pandas’ key offensive contributors in the first round of the state tournament.
The three Notre Dame players with double-digit goal totals combined for all four markers in a 4-0 win at West Jessamine on Tuesday.
And a scary thought for the rest of Kentucky the next couple of years is: The goal scorers were a junior, a sophomore and a freshman.
Sophomore Taylor Watts scored twice, junior Mandy Arnzen finished with a goal and an assist and freshman Christin Sherrard added a marker for the Pandas.
“I just think the drive’s there,” Arnzen said. “I just feel more urgency and I feel more pumped up during the postseason. I think that helps.”
Those three have also been clutch in the playoffs. Arnzen has six goals and six assists, Watts has scored five times and Sherrard has four markers in the postseason.
“They’re being in the right place in the right time and we’re getting it to them a lot more,” McSorley said. “I think it’s a lot of their shots and a lot of their goals are finishes that we’ve been able to produce for them, and that’s been huge because I think our offensive attack in the final third of the field stalled a lot throughout the year and it’s finally gained some momentum.”
Notre Dame wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Arnzen dribbled through multiple defenders, cut to the net from the left wing, got the goalkeeper to commit and buried a shot in the right side of the net exactly three minutes into the match.
The Pandas extended their lead when senior Carlee Clemons centered a pass to Watts, who buried a shot with 23:58 left in the first half.
Notre Dame ruined any hope of a comeback when Sherrard knocked home a rebound shot off a ball that was initially saved by Colts senior goalkeeper Brooke Perkins 50 seconds after halftime.
Arnzen drove from midfield to the top of the box and crossed a pass to Watts for the final goal with 2:17 remaining.
The Pandas outshot West Jessamine, 17-1, with the lone attempt coming in the closing minutes, but the ball rolled wide.
“Our defense played really well,” McSorley said. “They were playing really smart – we knew (West Jessamine) was trying to attack very directly and they were trying to beat us on foot. We were also trying to prohibit that ball from being served, so I would credit the mids and the strikers for coming back to try to tackle that ball before it even got off their foot.”
The Colts, who had not lost since their first match of the season on Aug. 21, were able to advance the ball onto Notre Dame’s side of the field, but except for their one shot, the Pandas stole the ball, blocked shot attempts or forced mistakes each time.
“They would have a breakaway and someone would come out of nowhere to get (the ball),” Arnzen said.
It was the eighth straight shutout for Notre Dame and its 19th of the season. The Pandas have surrendered just nine goals this season and none since Oct. 3, outscoring opponents 31-0 in six postseason matches.
Notre Dame scored 3.05 goals per game in the regular season but is netting 5.17 in six playoff matches. That average is up over a goal and a half over last season through the first round of the state tournament.
Credit a lot of new offensive talent joining the Pandas, which should continue to generate goals in the remainder of this postseason as well as the coming years.
“We seem to jell a lot better now and we got closer as a team – I think all of us did,” Watts said.
Notre Dame will play Russell in a state quarterfinal at Lexington Lafayette on Saturday at a time TBD. The Pandas have gone to the state championship match three times in the past four years and claimed one title in that span – winning state in 2011.
HALFTIME: 2-0. GOALS: ND—Watts 2, Arnzen, Sherrard. SHUTOUT: Hansel (0 saves). RECORDS: Notre Dame 21-2-3, West Jessamine 18-2-3.