Four talented prep soccer prospects officially committed to continuing both their academic and athletic careers on Wednesday, signing National Letters of Intent to join the University of Notre Dame women's soccer program in the fall of 2015.Rachel Heard
, a 5-8 defender (Decatur, Georgia/St. Pius X Catholic High School/GSA '97), Natalie Jacobs
, a 5-8 forward (Coto de Caza, California/Tesoro/Slammers FC), Ann Marie Niro
, a 5-5 midfielder (Barrington, Illinois/Barrington/Eclipse Select) and Natalie Ward
, a 5-4 midfielder (Newport Beach, California/Newport Harbor/Slammers FC), each submitted signed National Letters of Intent during the first day of the women's soccer signing period.
Other student-athletes might additionally be a part of the 2015 Notre Dame signing class once their offers of admission are officially received and accepted by the University.
"We are thrilled to welcome the 2015 class to the Notre Dame family, joining the great tradition of Notre Dame soccer," Fighting Irish head coach Theresa Romagnolo said. "This class brings great talent as well as great character, and will exemplify all that it means to be a Notre Dame student-athlete. We look forward to watching them excel on and off the field as great people at Notre Dame."
Two of Notre Dame's 2015 signees are ranked among the top 60 prospects in the class according to the Top Drawer Soccer Girls IMG Academy 150 player rankings. Natalie Jacobs
is at the top of that list among Fighting Irish signees at No. 6 in the IMG 150, and is also listed by Top Drawer Soccer as the top prospect in the Southern California region and the second forward overall in the nation. Ann Marie Niro is No. 58 in the latest Top Drawer Soccer Girls IMG 150, and is also listed as the No. 5 player in the Midwest region and the 19th overall midfielder. Natalie Ward
is a four-star prospect according to the most recent Top Drawer Soccer ratings, while Rachel Heard checks in as a three-star defender.
Jacobs, Ward and Niro each bring experience with the U.S. youth national team program ranging from the U-14 through the U-20 levels. Jacobs recently competed with the U.S. U-20 Women's National Team against Bayern Munich in a match last month, while Niro previously took part in U.S. U-17 National Team Camp in 2013. Ward was a part of the 2013-14 U.S. WNT U-18 player pool with future Notre Dame teammates Paige Crowley, Monica Flores, Sabrina Flores, Ginny McGowan, Megan McCashland and Lexi Nicholas.
Notre Dame returns a total of 25 veterans and 10 regular starters from its 2014 team that posted a 14-6-2 (.682) mark and finished fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 7-2-1 (.750) league record, reaching the third round of the NCAA Championship.
The Fighting Irish, who qualified for the NCAA Championship for the 22nd consecutive time last season, will be led in 2015 by soon-to-be senior captains Cari Roccaro (2014 all-ACC first team) and Katie Naughton (2014 all-ACC second team), who were both named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Women's University Division Scholar All-America third team last December. Other top performers back in the fold for Notre Dame include junior-to-be goalkeeper and 2014 all-ACC third team selection Kaela Little and 2014 ACC all-freshman team choice Sabrina Flores.
For more information on the Fighting Irish women's soccer program, follow Notre Dame on Twitter (@NDsoccernews or @NDSoccer), like the Fighting Irish on Facebook (facebook.com/NDWomenSoccer) or sign up for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the main page at UND.com.
Here is an in-depth look at each of the four additions to the Notre Dame women's soccer program:
RACHEL HEARD, 5-8, Defender (Decatur, Ga./St. Pius X Catholic High School/GSA '97)
Rankings: Three-star ranking according to Top Drawer Soccer.
Club Highlights: Named the Top Drawer Soccer Player to Watch at the 2014 ECNL Finals ... selected to the Top Drawer Soccer 2014 ECNL Finals Top 11 ... GSA '97 finished in seventh place at the 2014 ECNL Finals ... club squad claimed the 2013 and 2014 Southeast Conference Championship ... reached the ECNL Finals in 2012, claiming fifth place ... 2011 State Cup champions ... runner-up at the 2010 Disney Soccer Showcase.
Prep and Personal: Will graduate from St. Pius X Catholic High School this spring ... varsity letterwinner in soccer ... team claimed the 2013 and 2014 Georgia state championship ... St. Pius earned three straight regional championships in 2012, 2013 and 2014 ... daughter of Kelwin and Paula Heard ... has two siblings, Ryan and Reed ... plans to study business at Notre Dame.
Did You Know? Serves as a Senior Lion Leader at St. Pius X Catholic High School, with the club's mission devoted to modeling Catholic virtues that include honesty, integrity and a sense of community ... will be the second Georgia native ever to play for the Notre Dame women's soccer team, joining Ali Lovelace (1999-01).
Romagnolo on Rachel Heard... "Rachel Heard is an exceptional athlete and soccer player who can play multiple positions in the back. Her speed and athleticism will add to our ability to attack out of the back while also stopping our opponents. We are very excited about Rachel's potential."
NATALIE JACOBS, 5-8, Forward (Coto de Caza, Calif./Tesoro/Slammers FC)
Rankings: Ranked No. 6 in the Top Drawer Soccer Girls IMG Academy 150 player rankings (five-star ranking; No. 1 in Southern California region; No. 2 ranked forward nationally).
National Team/ODP/Club Team Highlights: Has been a member of the U.S. U-14, U-17, U-18 and U-20 National Teams, logging 14 international caps ... competed against Bayern Munich with the U.S. U-20 Women's National Team in January 2015 ... selected as player of the match for the U.S. U-18 WNT in a match against the Mexico U-20 WNT in 2014 ... member of the U.S. U-17 WNT that won the Four Nations Tournament in 2014, defeating world champion Japan 2-1 in the tournament final ... served as the team captain for the U.S. U-17 WNT against England in August 2013 and Guatemala in November 2013 ... played in all five matches for the U.S. during the 2013 CONCACAF U-17 World Cup ... 1997 ODP first team selection with ODP Cal South every year since 2010 ... helped Cal South claim the 2014 ODP National Championship (missed 2013 ODP National Championship while training at U.S. WNT camp) ... Region IV ODP champion 2011-14 (missed 2014 while at U.S. WNT camp) ... three-time ODP all-tournament first team choice; as a forward in 2013, as a central midfielder in 2012; as a central defender in 2011 ... served as ODP team captain in 2011 and 2012 ... three-time Region IV ODP team (2010-12) ... named an all-star at the 2012 ODP Thanksgiving Interregional ... has scored 221 career goals for West Coast FC and Slammers FC on the club circuit from the U-10 through the U-18 levels ... sixth place at the 2014 ECNL U-16 National Championships with Slammers FC ... Slammers was the national finalist at the 2013 ECNL U-16 National Championships ... 12 goals and three assists for Slammers FC in 10 games at the U-17 and U-18 levels in 2014-15 ... scored 15 goals and added 11 assists in 28 games in the U-16 and U-17 age groups for Slammers FC in 2013-14 ... 25 goals and eight assists for the U-16 Slammers FC team in 2012-13 that finished ranked second in the nation.
Prep and Personal: Will graduate from Tesoro High School this spring ... 2013 and 2014 NSCAA Youth All-American ... played high school soccer during freshman and sophomore years at Tesoro ... scored six goals and added four assists in only eight matches as a sophomore team captain, leading the team in both categories despite limited playing time due to U.S. WNT training ... tallied 14 goals and four assists over 19 matches to lead team in scoring as a freshman, copping all-league, all-conference and team most valuable player honors ... daughter of Jeff and Teresa Jacobs ... has two siblings, Jacqueline and Marley ... father, Jeff, is a 1985 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and was a men's soccer team captain ... sister, Jacqueline, played soccer at Air Force and will graduate this spring.
Did You Know?
Played on the same club team as future Notre Dame classmate Natalie Ward
... hails from the same area as future Notre Dame teammates Kaitlin Klawunder and Taylor Klawunder ... enjoys surfing, playing the piano and hanging out with friends ... mother, Teresa, was a television reporter for FOX and CBS affiliates in Phoenix, Arizona ... father, Jeff, is a captain for American Airlines ... grandfather played soccer at West Point, and later served as a general in the Air Force.
Romagnolo on Natalie Jacobs...
is a world-class player who has represented her country on many youth U.S. national teams as well as an elite club team, the Slammers. She is a pure goal scorer and has excelled at every level at multiple positions. She has the unique ability to take over a game and we are excited about what she can bring to the front line."
ANN MARIE NIRO, 5-5, Midfielder (Barrington, Ill./Barrington/Eclipse Select)
Rankings: Ranked No. 58 in the Top Drawer Soccer Girls IMG Academy 150 player rankings (four-star ranking; No. 5 in Midwest region; No. 19 ranked midfielder nationally).
National Team/ODP/Club Team/Highlights: Member of the ECNL conference champion in 2012 and 2014, reaching the national finals of the ECNL with Eclipse Select in 2014 ... three-time State Cup champion (2009, 2010, 2014) ... 2011 USYSA national finalist ... attended the 2013 ECNL/id2 Training Camp and the U.S. U-17 National Team Camp ... named to the ODP Region II Costa Rica Team in 2013 ... selected to the 2012 ODP Boca Interregional Event Best 11, as well as the 2012 ODP Region II team ... attended the 2010 and 2011 ECNL/id2 Training Camp.
Prep and Personal: Will graduate from Barrington High School this spring ... has not competed in high school soccer ... daughter of Raymond and Amanda Niro ... has two brothers, Peter and Raymond ... has two sisters, Stephanie and Nicole ... mother, Amanda, played volleyball at Northwestern ... sister, Nicole, is currently a freshman soccer player at Auburn ... would like to study business at Notre Dame.
Did You Know? Played on the same club team as future Irish teammate Ginny McGowan and 2014 senior tri-captain Sammy Scofield ... has been learning Chinese for the past seven years ... participated in a mission trip in the summer of 2014 to Vanceburg, Kentucky, building a house, working at a food pantry and helping at a nursing home.
Romagnolo on Ann Marie Niro... "Ann Marie Niro has great experience with the U.S. youth national teams as well and has displayed a strong commitment to become a great attacking and defensive midfielder. Her technical ability and tactical understanding of the game will fit in well with our possession-style of play."
NATALIE WARD, 5-4, Midfielder (Newport Beach, Calif./Newport Harbor/Slammers FC
Rankings: Four-star ranking according to Top Drawer Soccer.
National Team/Club Team Highlights: Was a part of the 2013-14 U.S. WNT Under-18 player pool with future Notre Dame teammates Paige Crowley, Monica Flores, Sabrina Flores, Ginny McGowan, Megan McCashland and Lexi Nicholas ... took part in the PDP Regional Camp in March of 2014 ... member of the 2013 national champion U-16 Slammers FC team ... Slammers squad reached the finals of the 2012 Surf Cup ... 2011 Nike Invitational Copa Real champion ... competed with the U-14 Slammers FC team that reached semifinals of the 2011 National Cup.
Prep and Personal: Will graduate from Newport Harbor High School this spring ... 2012-13 all-Sunset League second team selection as a sophomore, leading the team in goals scored ... 2011-12 all-Sunset League second team choice as a freshman ... Academic Excellence honoree for three straight academic years, achieving a 4.0 grade point average or higher in both the fall and spring semesters ... daughter of Bryon and Joy Ward ... has two siblings, Jessica and Bennett.
Did You Know?
Played on the same club team as future Notre Dame classmate Natalie Jacobs
... also lettered in track at Newport Harbor High School ... member of the Newport Chapter of the National Charity League ... received the Daughters of The American Revolution (DAR) Award in 2011 ... is an avid oil painter and snowboarder ... has been involved with the Junior Lifeguard Program.
Romagnolo on Natalie Ward...
is another player with youth U.S. national team experience who also plays for the Slammers with Natalie Jacobs
. She is an exceptional defender who can both create in the attack and defend at the highest level. She brings a great athleticism and aggressive spirit."