ND Women's Soccer: Championship road begins in Alumni Stadium
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 01:11
Once you reach the postseason, everything comes down to achieving and realizing your goals. But if No. 20 Notre Dame is to reach its expectation of challenging for a national championship, it is going to need just that: goals.
The Irish defense has held opposing offenses to one goal in the team’s past four games, keeping Notre Dame (13-5-2, 8-1-1 Big East) in games despite its struggles to find the back of the net. Three straight 1-0 wins gave way to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of No. 10 Marquette in the Big East semifinals, eliminating the Irish from the race for the conference crown.
“We’ve really struggled in the past two or three weeks to score goals and create the kinds of chances we’ll need in this playoff run,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “So this week, we spent a lot of time on the attacking part of the game, and the training has been good and intense. It’s definitely been a playoff week, and I’m really pleased with that.”
Notre Dame has one more chance to make this season an unforgettable one in the NCAA tournament, and that journey will start tonight against Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Panthers (8-8-1, 5-2-0 Horizon League) also boast a strong defense and have pitched three straight shutouts. Waldrum said Milwaukee-Wisconsin’s staunch defense would force the Irish to step up offensively, putting an emphasis on a few key players that could decide the game.
“We need production [from junior midfielder] Elizabeth Tucker and her mobility, [freshman midfielder] Cari Roccaro and her goal-scoring ability, and some freshmen like [forwards] Anna Maria Gilbertson and Crystal Thomas can step up for us, too,” Waldrum said. “Those key players are going to be really important for us in terms of creating chances.”
And while Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Horizon League champion, doesn’t have a strong record or hail from a power conference, Waldrum said that the Panthers would nevertheless pose a stiff challenge for his players.
“Their record doesn’t mark them as a women’s soccer power, but what I noticed in watching them was that they’re very well-organized and they are a group of hard-working, blue-collar kids,” Waldrum said. “And they’ve played in six games that have gone to overtime, so they keep most of their games close. They’re a hard team to break down, and they’re probably playing their best soccer right now.”
Notre Dame will also have the advantage of playing in front of its home fans in Alumni Stadium. Temperatures are expected to sit in the 50s and the conditions look to be pitch-perfect for soccer, something Waldrum hopes will bring out the best in his players and the student section alike.
“Playing at home is huge,” he said. “Having a crowd out there — that ‘12th man’ — tomorrow night will be huge for our players, and we need them to turn out. It’s up to us to take advantage of that.”
The team doesn’t boast much playoff experience and is the youngest squad Waldrum has ever had at Notre Dame. But with only six games standing between the Irish and the program’s fourth national championship, their coach sees no reason to back down now.
“Our goal is not going to change just because we have a whole bunch of freshmen on the team this year,” Waldrum said. “We want to be back in the Final Four. That’s our goal every year. If we lower that expectation, then we’re just cheating those players.”
Notre Dame will try and take the first step towards the College Cup when it takes on Wisconsin-Milwaukee tonight in Alumni Stadium at 7 p.m.
Contact Jack Hefferon at firstname.lastname@example.org