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Womens Soccer: Irish left searching for answers after loss

Andy Troeger | Monday, November 10, 2003

Two weeks ago, the Irish traveled home from New Jersey having completed an impressive run through the Big East where they did not give up a single goal. They shut out 10 teams in a row and 14 of the 19 teams they had played to that point.

What a difference two weeks make.

Coming back from the Big East Tournament, the Irish are trying to figure out what has changed for a team that now has lost two out of three to teams they expected to beat. After giving up only five goals during their first 19 games, the Irish have allowed six in their last three games.

And with the NCAA Tournament opening next week, there is not much time for the Irish to right the ship.

The Irish, who seemed a lock for the No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament only two weeks ago, now will likely be placed somewhere between Nos. 4 and No. 7. After top seeds North Carolina, UCLA and Portland, the pool for those next four seeds should come from Notre Dame, Penn State, Virginia, Santa Clara, Colorado and West Virginia. Ironically, only Santa Clara – an early season victim of the Irish – did not lose this week, and none of those other six teams even made the final of their respective conference tournament.

More urgent, however, are the problems that have cropped up in the last few games. The defense that led the nation in goals-against average through 19 games has given up more goals in the last three games (six) than in the first 19 combined (five). The offense that has looked so good all season has sputtered, mustering only four shots on goal against Boston College.

Injuries have played a role, with Mary Boland, Melissa Tancredi and Amy Warner all missing games recently. Those three players were Notre Dame’s three representatives on the All-Big East first team and are possibly Notre Dame’s three most irreplaceable players. Boland and Tancredi have returned to the lineup, but the timing of Warner’s return is still uncertain.

The Irish now have the next five days to prepare for their next opponent, who will be announced today. Almost assuredly, the Irish will be better than their first two opponents in the tournament, but they also were better than Michigan and Boston College.

The Irish have always fared well in the postseason, although that armor has been chinked some in the last few seasons. Still, a team with 19 wins in 22 games and a history as one of the premier women’s soccer programs in the country is a program to be feared as the season nears its end.

Regardless of past history, the Irish now enter the time of the year when one loss ends a season. The Irish have one final chance to regroup and make yet another run toward a National Championship. Yet something suggests that this group will make the most of it.

The opinions of this column are those of the author and not necessarily The Observer. Contact Andy Troeger at atroeger@nd.edu.