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Notre Dame Squeaks By Mexico

Apr 7, 2013, 3:27 PM EDT

The ball snuck just inside the right post, nestling softly into the back of the net and setting off a thunderous chorus of approval from the heavily Hispanic crowd. Tanya Samarzich’s third goal of the evening pushed Mexico into a 3-2 lead, and with just ten minutes remaining, prospects of victory looked bleak for Notre Dame. But the oft stagnant Irish offense heated up in the nick of time, producing two goals to give Notre Dame a 4-3 victory in its annual exhibition with Mexico’s U20 national team Friday night.

The Irish struck first on a beautiful shot by Karin Simonian in the 18th minute. The sophomore forward ripped a drive from 25 yards out that just escaped the outstretched hands of Mexico goalkeeper Alejandra Gutierrez. Simonian was a marginal factor on offense in the fall, scoring one goal and dishing out three assists. She took three shots in the first half alone on Friday, and head coach Randy Waldrum hopes Simonian will continue to be a force in the fall.

“If she can continue to play the way she’s played in the last two games, then clearly she’ll fit into the equation,” Waldrum said. “We’ve tried to find her best position in the last year and haven’t really been able to decide whether to put her in the midfield or up front. But these last two games I think she’s done a really good job for us playing in that floater position up front.”

Mexico’s Samarzich, a Southern California recruit, tallied perhaps the most spectacular of her three goals in the 30th minute with a blast from just outside the box that banged off the far post and into the net.

Naomi Willett got the start between the pipes for the Irish. The freshman appeared in only two games last year and is seeing plenty of time this spring due in part to injuries sustained by her fellow keepers.

“Naomi needs the spring because she needs to get games,” Waldrum said. “She really didn’t get much game time at all in the fall as a freshman. Elyse Hight is out with a shoulder injury and Sarah Voigt is out with a groin injury, so it’s been a great opportunity for Naomi to play in some really big games. She’s done OK. Certainly there are some things she’s getting exposed on a little bit, but I think she’s held her own so far. She’s had three games under her belt, and I think her progress will continue to grow.”

What was primarily a defensive struggle in the first half morphed into a high scoring affair in the second. Freshman defender Katie Naughton headed in a corner kick from teammate Crystal Thomas to give the Irish a 2-1 edge, but Samarzich evened things up mere minutes later with a snipe from eight yards out. She completed her hat trick in the 77th minute.

“[Samarzich] scored three great goals,” Waldrum said. “She could find those little gaps to get into. You don’t find a lot of college teams that have players as smart and tactical as her.”

Trailing 3-2, the Irish pulled even in the 85th minute when Thomas tapped in a rebound off of a Cari Roccaro shot. Roccaro then scored in stoppage time on a strike that sailed over Gutierrez’s head and into the center of the net.

“It was huge,” Waldrum said. “To get two goals to come back in the last ten minutes against a national team of Mexico’s caliber is great, so it should be a big confidence booster for us. We’ve struggled a little bit offensively so far this spring, and to score four goals the way we did should be great for our confidence.”

The women will continue their spring season with a scrimmage against Kentucky on April 13.

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