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The cat’s out of the bag

Matt Mooney | Wednesday, April 21, 2004

After stumbling for the first time all season against No. 5 Georgetown Saturday, No. 6 Notre Dame hoped to right itself Tuesday against No. 11 Northwestern. Instead, they fell flat on their face.On a cold, rainy, muddy day in Evanston, Ill., the play was as sloppy as the weather as Notre Dame (10-2, 3-1) fell to the Wildcats by a 9-5 score. The Irish have now lost two consecutive games after cruising to a 10-0 start.Irish coach Tracy Coyne refused to blame either the weather or the weekday travel. “I don’t want to make any excuses,” she said. “The execution just wasn’t there, [and] we played like crap.”Both teams sputtered out of the gate, failing to generate any momentum. Irish attack Jackie Bowers finally netted the first goal almost 14 minutes into the game to give Notre Dame a 1-0 lead, but it was the last lead they would see. Still, neither offense was sharp as the teams combined for a meager total of five first half goals. At the intermission, the Wildcats led by only a 3-2 score. But if Notre Dame had a poor first half, the second half was even worse. A sickly offense became anemic as the Irish managed only one goal before scoring their last two with under one minute to play, at that point it mattered only for statistical purposes. Northwestern, on the other hand, found enough second-half footing to bury the Irish. Wildcat Kristin Kjellman opened the floodgates, scoring 12 seconds into the half, and her teammates followed up with five more goals.Coyne was hopeful that Saturday’s loss against No. 5 Georgetown would inject some life into her team as they head into the stretch run of the season. What she got was a flat performance. “We just did not show up to play at all today. There might be some residual from that [loss],” she said.Few things went right for the Irish all day. Goalie Carol Dixon received a yellow card in the second half and had to be replaced by freshman backup Katie Linhares for three minutes, her first action of the season. “[Linhares] did well,” Coyne said. “She had to go in at a crucial time in the game and she made a save and cleared the ball out safely which was huge for the team, but we couldn’t capitalize.”Perhaps the sole bright spot for the Irish was their defense. Notre Dame has stonewalled opposing offenses, preventing 10 of its last 11 opponents from tallying double-digit goals. But the paltry Irish offense struggled mightily all day. “The defense played extremely well, it was the attack that let us down,” Coyne said. “We just never controlled the ball and didn’t really settle in and run any of our plays.”For Notre Dame to turn things around quickly will not be an easy task. Three of the team’s last four games are against top 15 opponents, No. 9 Johns Hopkins, No. 10 Vanderbilt and No. 13 Syracuse. As the season draws to a close, Coyne realizes that time is running short for her team to avoid these types of mental lapses. “If we want to be a championship team then we need to develop the mental toughness that it takes to compete under all different types of conditions facing all different types of challenges,” she said. “How we respond to this is going to show a lot about our character. Hopefully we’re strong enough to be able to rebound.”