Renewal of a rivalry
Andy Troeger | Friday, October 17, 2003
One sign of an intense conference rivalry comes when the teams play each other in years when the conference doesn’t schedule a game between the teams. That will be the case tonight when Notre Dame takes on the Connecticut Huskies in a non-conference game between the teams that have historically dominated the Big East.
The Irish come into the game ranked No. 2 in the country with a 14-0-1 record, while the Huskies are No. 14 with an 8-3-3 record. The Irish are atop the Mid-Atlantic Division of the Big East, while the Huskies share the top spot in the Northeast Division.
“Connecticut is our oldest rival,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “They always hover around the top six or eight in the country at the end of the season and should be there again this year.”
The Huskies present a formidable challenge for the surging Irish, having already defeated a top five team by winning at Portland. They also were the last Big East team to defeat the Irish at home, winning in 1995. The Irish have won their last 48 games against Big East teams at Alumni Field.
The Huskies will also be looking to avenge last year’s loss to the Irish, as unranked Notre Dame shook off a 1-0 halftime deficit with three goals in the second half to beat the No. 9 Huskies 3-1. The Irish dominated the second half, ending up with an overall 9-0 shot advantage for the half and 17-4 for the game.
“They’ve changed their system a little bit this year in their midfield, so we need to be able to deal with that, and they definitely will use last year’s loss as some added fuel for this game,” Waldrum said.
Connections between the two teams also add to the rivalry. Irish senior Amy Warner will be reunited with former high school teammate Kristen Graczyk, who is one of the top scorers for the Huskies. Both players, who hail from La Cueva high school in Albuquerque, N.M., have been named Big East Offensive Player of the Week in the past two weeks, with Warner being the current honoree.
In addition two Irish players, defender Vanessa Pruzinsky and goalkeeper Erika Bohn, hail from the state of Connecticut and have a number of connections with Husky players.
The Irish head into the game with six consecutive shutouts, two shy of the team record. The current shutout streak covers 584 minutes, about a game and a half shy of the team record of 726 minutes by the national championship team in 1995. The Irish have outscored their opponents 55-5, including 26-1 on their current homestand.
“It’s amazing how much confidence we have, all the way from the freshmen to the seniors, in both ourselves and team,” senior defender Melissa Tancredi said. “It’s a different quality of play and the effort and intensity given in practice shows on the field.”
The Irish defense has shown a strong blend of youth and experience. Tancredi, who has been named to the Soccer America Team of the Week and declared Big East Defensive Player of the Week two weeks in a row, provides the experience along with Pruzinsky, while freshmen Christie Shaner and Kim Lorenzen have also delivered consistent performances in the back for the Irish.
“I don’t think anyone expected them to come in as good as they did, even Shaner and Lorenzen,” Tancredi said. “They’ve done so well just being thrown in there. It’s become very easy for me to count on them to do their job.”
After facing Connecticut, the Irish will finally go on the road for their last three Big East divisional games of the season. The Irish take on Pittsburgh Sunday before traveling to Rutgers and Seton Hall next weekend. At 3-0, the Irish will be looking to go undefeated in the division a year after finishing tied at 3-3.