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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

ND Women's Soccer: Team faces USF in Big East battle

After rattling off six consecutive victories to end the regular season, the Irish will begin postseason play when they host South Florida in the quarterfinal round of the Big East tournament Sunday at Alumni Stadium.

Notre Dame (14-3-1, 10-0-1 Big East) earned a bye in the first round of the tournament after clinching the regular league title with an unbeaten record. The No. 5 Irish are riding an NCAA record 63-match unbeaten streak against conference opponents, which began against the Bulls back in 2005.

Since opening the season with tough non-conference losses against top-ranked Stanford, No. 6 North Carolina and No. 14 Santa Clara, the Irish have been outstanding, allowing just four goals in the 12 matches since their last loss.

"For the most part, I've been pretty pleased with the way we've played [towards the end of the season]," Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. "Early on in the season we struggled scoring goals, but we made some changes to the lineup and, starting with the match against West Virginia, this team has started to play well and has really put all the phases of the game together."

According to Waldrum, the most important goal of this coming week will be to get his players healthy.

"The thing is, the Big East tournament just isn't as big a deal as saving our players for the NCAA tournament," he said.

Several Irish players have missed playing time over the past few weeks due to injury. Senior forward Michele Weissenhofer has missed time with a hamstring injury, while sophomore forward Melissa Henderson, the team's leading scorer, just returned from a two-game absence in Notre Dame's last match against Georgetown. Waldrum said that both players' minutes would be closely monitored this week so they would be ready to go for the NCAA tournament.


As much as Waldrum would like to rest his ailing players, there will be more on the line in this season's conference tournament than in the past.

"If we hadn't lost [those games] early in the year, it would put us in a position not to have to win the tournament," he said. "But a couple of the other top teams in the country have lost recently so we are in good position to move up into the top-five if we can win this tournament. But if we lose, we might slip in the rankings and possibly have to go on the road in the early rounds of the NCAAs."

The Bulls are one of four Big East teams the Irish have yet to face this season. Last season, Notre Dame hammered South Florida 3-0.

"They are very similar to the team we faced last year," Waldrum said. "Defensively, they are organized and can create problems. They have a few very talented players and a good goalkeeper. They are winning a lot more games this season because of that."

South Florida knocked off DePaul 1-0 in the first round of the tournament Thursday night behind a late goal in the 84th minute. The Bulls are making their first ever appearance in the Big East quarterfinals.

Waldrum was quick to point out that this year's tournament will be no walk in the park for the Irish who have won 10 Big East titles in the team's 14 seasons as a member of the conference.

"The quarterfinal round has been relatively easy in past years, but this year it's going to be a tough one," he said. "The conference has definitely gotten much better over the past couple of years."