After defeating Georgetown on Friday night 2-0, the Ohio State women’s soccer team (17-4-1) is preparing for its first Final Four matchup in program history when it will take on Notre Dame (19-2-2) on Friday in Cary, N.C.
Notre Dame enters the Final Four as the No. 4 seed in its region, after knocking off No. 1 seed North Carolina 4-1 in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 seed Oklahoma State 2-0 in the Elite Eight.
OSU forward Paige Maxwell, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, said she isn’t intimidated by the Fighting Irish, who have outscored their opponents 13-1 in the tournament.
“They’re a solid team, just like anyone else. You have to be, honestly, a great team to go into the Final Four,” Maxwell said. “But I don’t think that they’re a competitor that we can’t beat.”
OSU goalkeeper Katie Baumgardner said the Buckeyes are prepared to take on their Midwest rival.
“They’re a great team. They only have two losses on the season,” Baumgardner said. “There’s a lot of tension between the two teams, so it’s going to be a heated rivalry.”
Geographical proximity might be the only similarity between the Buckeyes and the Fighting Irish.
The Buckeyes will try to combat Notre Dame’s high-scoring offense with a defense led by the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Cassie Dickerson. The Buckeyes’ defense has given up two goals in the first four rounds of the tournament, both of which came in OSU’s Sweet 16 matchup with Virginia.
“As a defense, we like to work for each other,” Dickerson said. “If we set that tone, it will work up the field for our midfielders and our forwards. So if we set that tone and our whole team plays with that mentality, then I think we’re pretty hard to stop.”
While Notre Dame has advanced to the Final Four by way of taking commanding leads over its opponents, the Buckeyes have tended more toward nailbiters, including a double-overtime, opening-round win over St. Francis (PA) and a second-round penalty kick shootout victory over Dayton.
Maxwell said the Buckeyes are built to win close games.
“We’re an overtime team,” Maxwell said. “We’re all fit enough. We all know the game of soccer, and anything can happen with soccer.”
A win Friday would put the Buckeyes in Sunday’s championship game against the winner of the Stanford (22-0-2) and Boston College (17-6-1) matchup.
Baumgardner said she’s yet to put her team’s historic season into perspective.
“None of us have realized how big this season has been,” Baumgardner said. “It’s not going to really sink in until it’s over.”
Maxwell said she’s excited to showcase her talents in the national spotlight but that, for now, the Buckeyes are focused on beating the Fighting Irish.
“We deserve to be here. We deserve to show people our game, our style and how athletic and how good we are as a soccer team,” Maxwell said. “It’s been a whirlwind, but we’re just ready to go there and show Notre Dame what’s up.”