FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas will play in the quarterfinals of the NCAA soccer tournament for the first time in program history.
The Razorbacks beat Notre Dame 3-2 in a thrilling Sunday night game in front of 1579 at Razorback Field.
Arkansas (19-4-0) finished the season undefeated at home. The Razorbacks hosted a Sweet 16 game for the first time and were playing in that round for the first time since their first playoff appearance in 2013.
Taylor Malham scored the game-winning goal for Arkansas on Sunday with a spectacular solo effort in the 78th that wowed both coaches.
“That third goal was just a fantastic shot,” said Notre Dame coach Nate Norman. “She got every piece of that bullet.”
Malham received the ball at the corner of the box, watched his runners in the middle and chose to launch a rocket in front of the diving keeper. After the ball hit the net, Malham – overwhelmed with excitement – jumped into the arms of her teammates.
The jubilation was short-lived as the team resumed operations after the restart. Notre Dame (14-6-2) got a corner kick and a penalty appeal in the dying seconds, but was unable to tie the game for the third time.
“When they scored their goals we just had to calm down and keep fighting,” said Malham. “I think we did a good job of staying focused and finishing the game. “
The Fighting Irish have managed to equalize twice. Prior to Sunday, Notre Dame was 13-2 in games when she scored twice.
“To score two goals and not win the game is very difficult,” said Norman. “I’m so disappointed because the season has ended, but I also have this sense of pride in the way we fought.”
Arkansas scored in under 10 minutes for the third straight playoff game when Malham guided a bouncing ball into the net on a long Parker Goins throw-in to give the Razorbacks a 1-0 lead. Malham has scored nine goals, a career-high this season, despite his role as a defensive end.
Notre-Dame’s first goal came from a turnaround in midfield. Irish forward Korbin Albert made a quick movement around a Razorback defender and gave Arkansas goalie Hannah Warner no chance as she threw a shot into the net from a distance to tie the game 1-1 before half-time.
A flooded box strategy paid off for the Hogs in the 54th minute when Goins was able to hang on to a cross. She headed the ball straight into the ground and it bounced off the outstretched hands of Notre Dame goalie Ashley Naylor to give Arkansas a 2-1 lead.
“I think they are honestly the best team in the country to be in the box and show up in front of people to throw balls,” Norman said.
The Fighting Irish found the equalizer with a quick counterattack breakaway that Olivia Wingate finished to tie the game 2-2 in the 63rd minute.
Arkansas coach Colby Hale credited his super-senior veterans like Malham and Goins for keeping the squad made up through the ups and downs of the game. Hale expressed pride in his team’s unprecedented success, but stressed that the Razorbacks are not happy.
Arkansas will hit the road for the first time in their tournament when they face Rutgers (19-3-1) in the Elite Eight next weekend in Piscataway, NJ. The date and time of the match have not been announced.
The Scarlet Knights are seeded in their group and beat TCU 5-4 on penalties on Sunday. The Arkansas-Rutgers winner will advance to the College Cup in Santa Clara, Calif., Which begins on December 3.
“They came back for a reason,” Hale said. “They want to compete for a national championship. We go to Rutgers and (will) do our best. “