BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Clutch second-half goals from junior forward Anna Maria Gilbertson and sophomore forward Kaleigh Olmsted carried an inspired Notre Dame team to a spirited 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference victory against No. 2 Virginia Tech on Thursday night at Thompson Field.
Notre Dame (6-3-1, 1-1 ACC) avenged a pair of one-goal losses (1-0 on Oct. 13; 2-1 in 2OT on Nov. 3) at Thompson Field during its debut 2013 season in the ACC, controlling the second half against the previously undefeated Hokies (10-1, 1-1 ACC). The Fighting Irish improved to 158-47-15 (.752) all-time in true road games, including 3-0-1 this season. Notre Dame is now 173-17-11 (.888) in conference play dating back to the 1991 season.
The Notre Dame win snapped Virginia Tech's program-best 10-game winning streak to open a season. The Hokies were also just the second Virginia Tech program to ever reach a ranking of number two in the country in a given sport, joining the football team in 1999 that ultimately competed for a national championship in the 2000 Sugar Bowl. No Virginia Tech varsity team has ever been the top-ranked team nationally in any sport.
"It feels great to get the win," Notre Dame head coach Theresa Romagnolo, who earned her first career ACC victory, said. "I think they definitely created a positive memory here. I thought we were organized and got good pressure on the ball, we tracked players well into the box, and for the most part we denied a lot of services. Our keeper also made a lot of great saves."
Virginia Tech finished the contest with a 15-9 edge in total shots, but only a 5-4 margin in shots on goal. For Notre Dame, its first two shots of the second half that found the frame also found the back of the net, changing the game entirely.
"Any time there is that much shooting from distance, that is pretty predictable for our goalkeepers," Romagnolo said. "At the end, they did have a couple good opportunities and we made some big saves. We need to continue, even at the end of games, to deny shots like we did the rest of the game."
IRISH VICTORY! Irish take down #2 Virginia Tech 2-0. Goals by @anna06maria and @kaleigholmsted. Assists by @karinrosee and @taybaybayy17!— ND Women's Soccer (@NDSoccer) September 26, 2014
After owning the slight advantage on the attack in the first 45 minutes, Virginia Tech kept pressing the offensive momentum as the second half progressed, but a failed clearance attempt along the right sideline in the home end was stolen by Notre Dame senior forward Karin Simonian. The Fighting Irish attacker lobbed a perfect left-footed pass in front to a cutting Gilbertson, who finished a strong strike from near the top of the six-yard box to give Notre Dame a 1-0 lead at 61:10.
"I think we just kept pressing high, and we were composed," Gilbertson said. "We made sure that even after we scored we had to keep the intensity high. Kaleigh made a great move on the line that got Karin the ball, and I saw her out wide. I tried to get into the box and she made a great cross."
The Hokies found open space at various parts during the night, but each time the Notre Dame defense was up to the task in its first game back on the pitch since a heartbreaking 3-2 double overtime loss to North Carolina last Saturday. The Fighting Irish game plan worked well against Virginia Tech to give Notre Dame its 33rd all-time win against a top five opponent, and its second ACC road victory against a top-two team (at No. 1 North Carolina, 1-0, Sept. 15, 2013) since joining the conference last season.
The Fighting Irish put some distance between themselves and the Hokies in the 70th minute. Senior defender Taylor Schneider gained possession just inside midfield on a 50-50 win created by a hard-nosed play from freshman Ginny McGowan. Schneider threaded a great through ball to Olmsted, who hit a left-footed shot on the run to beat Virginia Tech goalkeeper Caroline Kelly low right at 69:36 to up the Fighting Irish lead to 2-0.
"I saw Karin coming in, and we basically just switched players," Olmsted said. "Tay played a really nice, [almost] perfect ball to the middle of the penalty spot. I usually get pretty nervous whenever I shoot those shots, but it felt nice today."
Virginia Tech's Kelsey Loupee came up with a try for the hosts on the opposite side in the 73rd minute, by Notre Dame sophomore keeper Kaela Little was up to the challenge and made the save.
The Hokies received a free kick to the left of the Notre Dame 18-yard box in the 77th minute, but the try bounded right to Little to erase the chance of a rebound, a common theme throughout the night.
"I don't think we necessarily changed anything that we did against them last year, I think the difference was we wanted it more [tonight]," Olmsted said. "We came out and were composed, we knew what we wanted to do and how to get it done. It's a different mentality this year, the way we play in practice is competitive, the way we approach games is competitive. I don't know what it is, and every year you have a different team, but this year I feel like our mentality is a lot more competitive."
Virginia Tech would have one final scoring chance in the 85th minute after forward Shannon Mayrose gained possession inside the Notre Dame 18-yard box. Little stepped into the play and made a huge save, deflecting the ball over the net with her head to thwart the threat.
Lauren Bohaboy led all Notre Dame players with three total shots during the match, with four different Fighting Irish shooters logging one shot on goal. Little made five stops in goal to earn her fifth solo shutout of the season, and her 11th career clean sheet.