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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

ND Women's Soccer: Weekend should give fans glimpse of the future

The last time I remember being this excited was the 1999 World Cup - that was my Super Bowl, my Olympics. I'm pretty sure the College Cup will feel the same for any 12-year old girl there this weekend.

Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy, and my personal favorite, Kristine Lilly, were my idols - when I got "No. 13" (Kristine Lilly) to sign my jersey at a WUSA game, I'm pretty sure my dad had to drag me off the field, frozen from shock and unable to talk. I remember going to dinner and overhearing an older couple at the next table discussing America's win over China; they were mainly horrified that Brandi Chastain had even thought to tear off her shirt in victory. I couldn't have been prouder.

But from those years following the rise of women's soccer to glory in America, something has happened - it's fallen off the radar. Copies of Sports Illustrated with Chastain celebrating in her sports bra on the cover are probably buried in the corner of some 20-something girl's room now, forgotten and unimportant. And with good reason. That was the last time the United States won a World Cup, showed hope for a nation dominated by male sports of football and baseball.

And even though the U.S. took gold at the Olympics this summer, it just didn't feel the same, maybe because I wasn't 12 or wearing at Lilly jersey at the time, but I don't think that was it. It just wasn't as exciting. These weren't faces I had come to know and cheer for. They were just another team.

But the 2008 College Cup gives my hope that that's about to change. Call it a hunch, but I feel history in the making here. Notre Dame, UCLA, North Carolina, and Stanford all have something to do with it.

Take a look at the Irish roster. Kerri Hanks passed Mia Hamm on the career assist list, she's not too far behind in goals either. Hanks, along with Carrie Dew, Brittany Bock, Michele Weissenhofer and Elise Weber are all members of the U-23 National team. Notre Dame is a microcosm of the future of women's soccer.

But take a look at the Final Four and the list of individuals that likely become household names. UCLA boasts Lauren Cheney and Tina DiMartino, both of whom have suited up for the National Team, alongside stars like Shannon Box. North Carolina's Tobin Heath has also donned the red, white and blue. And Irish members of the U-23 team have played alongside Stanford's Marisa Abegg.

They're not all leading scorers or offensive stars either, they're a group of young women who will compose a team that features both goal-scorers and players who will prevent goals. These players are what American soccer will look like in years to come.

Names like Hamm and Chastain aren't likely to be forgotten and Lilly is still playing, as a matter of fact. But there's a new generation waiting to take the turf - but first they have to take the field this weekend in Cary, N.C.

Regardless of who takes the title this weekend, fans are in for a good show. They'll be able to say "I saw Kerri Hanks when she was still at Notre Dame." And when the players leave the field - many of them for their final college game - it won't be the last game they play. They'll go on to train with the national team and take up a role in the newly-formed Women's Professional Soccer league.

Hopefully this league can survive longer than three years, and I have hope that these players will help that happen.

So don't be surprised if you see some of those faces scrolling across your TV screen during the 2011 World Cup, and that you actually know who they are.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Deirdre Krasula at