Confidence guiding a cohesive Notre Dame soccer team

The Notre Dame High School soccer program is off to one of its best starts ever, thanks to a mix of talented players, from freshmen to seniors.

"We have an interesting blend of young and old," Notre Dame coach Dave Robben said.

Several talented freshmen are making an impact, he said, with seniors providing leadership while sophomores and juniors are making contributions to the winning formula. "It's just a very cohesive group right now," Robben said.

Notre Dame defeated St. Pius X 1-0 April 9 to bring the Rebels record to 6-2. The team had two overtime losses to start the season, then defeated Rosati-Kain, Lutheran St. Charles, Lutheran South, Duchesne, St. Francis Borgia and St. Pius X. Games were scheduled against St. Dominic and Westminster Christian Academy before the Parkway West Tourney from April 16-20.

It's the best start in the 15 years Robben has been coaching at Notre Dame. "The girls are just buying into all the hard work and all the effort that has to go into maintaining this level," he said.

For example, he pointed to the St. Pius game in which the team played with a relentless spirit and confidence. "We continue to feed off that, and it continues to sustain us," Robben said. "We were moving the ball well. That's one of the things we've been doing lately. They see the game and read the game well."

Junior Lexi Lanzafame is a big part of the effort. She scored the lone goal against St. Pius, knocking in a rebound of a shot by sophore Amanda Aug. Lanzafame hit the crossbar twice in the first half and consistently drove to the goal. St. Pius goalie Jordyn Spreck, a junior, showed her athleticism in making a number of difficult saves. Sophomore Molly Flanagan led a strong defensive effort for St. Pius as Notre Dame kept the pressure on its opponent most of the game.

Lanzafame said ball possession and communication among players was a key to the game. St. Pius was a worthy opponent, she said, with a talented goalie and a battler's mentality. Notre Dame has skilled players, and "I think we're going to have a good season. We have some new players who are really going to help us out," she said.

Freshman Grace Newsham explained that the players blend on and off the field. "As a freshman, I was nervous because I didn't know any upperclassmen or a lot of people on the team. But they were all very welcoming and we all have one love for the team, so we utilize that out on the field," she said.

Against St. Pius, she said, "we had quick possession and got behind their back line a lot. We took people on in the final third and we battled physically."

Robben said the players at Notre Dame have "no pretentiousness, they're very grounded. It's fun being around them because they're so enthusiastic."

Notre Dame was in the final four of the state championship from 2007-11 and returned in 2016. The juniors and seniors on this year's team remember that success and, recognizing the talent of this year's team, know they can return to the finals if they work hard and stay grounded, Robben said.

It's a faith-filled team that want to have success but keep that in perspective, the coach said. "We say a prayer before the game, and I ask the girls to think about that, what it is we're trying to do," he said.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame who reside on campus show their support, waving to the girls and telling them good luck, Robben said, "and the girls feed off that."

Newsham noted that the team prayed the Our Father at halftime of the St. Pius game to get mentally prepared for the next half and for players who were physically banged up during the game.

Lanzafame and Newsham are big boosters of Notre Dame, where they find it easy to make friendships. "We're a little school, but we're mighty," Newsham said. "People take us for granted a lot of times, but we have a lot to say." 

St. Pius X

St. Pius X soccer coach Aaron Portell is taking a strategic approach with his team this season.

St. Pius lost players with goal-scoring experience due to the graduation of three key seniors on offense. "So at this time, goals are hard to come by," Paxton said. "With that in mind, we have built this team around a defensive mindset and try to score off quick counters utilizing our speed."

In a 1-0 loss April 9 to Notre Dame High School, he was pleased with the performance for the most part. "I thought we competed at a high level and made things difficult at times for a very good Notre Dame team," the Lancers coach said, calling the play by his goalkeeper Jordyn Spreck "fantastic" and citing "an amazing job as well" by outside back Molly Flanagan. 

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