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Irish face toughest challenge of season, No. 2 Santa Clara

Matt Mooney | Friday, September 3, 2004

It would be unfair to say, in a season just two games old, that this is a defining weekend for No. 2 Notre Dame.

So I won’t.

But I will say that the upcoming contests against No. 13 Stanford and No. 4 Santa Clara represent a golden opportunity for the Irish to take a step closer towards the one ingredient the team is missing – greatness.

Greatness is achieved by winning the big games, the games that count. The last time Notre Dame saw greatness in its women’s soccer was in 2000 when the Irish gave the legendary (synonymous with ‘historically great’) North Carolina Tar Heels all they could handle in the NCAA semifinals.

This year, the Irish are a talented team, but to transform into a great team, they will have to learn from 2003.

Last year, the Irish were a good team, a very good team. They were talented and ranked second in the country for most of the year. But they were not great.

The first sign of trouble happened when geographical (and unranked) rival Michigan beat them at Alumni Field to put the sole blemish on what would have been an undefeated regular season.

That game could have been a fluke, and the Irish could have moved on and cruised through the postseason.

But disappointing losses in the Big East Tournament semifinals and then in the second round of the NCAA Tournament (as the No. 2 seed and, once again, to Michigan) left the Irish with a nice record but without greatness.

Granted, very few teams are perfect.

Perfection is the goal, but almost inevitably there will be some losses along the way.

However, what separates the good from the great teams is that, despite a loss here or there, great teams don’t beat themselves when the stakes are high.

If you’re having trouble following my painfully abstract logic, allow me to clarify.

For you visual/athletically-inclined learners, last year’s college football season provides a perfect example.

Southern Cal – great team.

Louisiana State – great team.

Oklahoma – very good (but not great) team.

Notre Dame – don’t get me started, I’m still in therapy.

Great teams have talent, but, unlike the above Oklahoma Sooners, they are not afraid to perform in crucial games.

The North Carolina women’s soccer program solidified its dynasty, not when gifted players signed on to play at Chapel Hill, but when they all embraced their talent, their destiny as champions and refused to let anything stand in their way.

Programs like North Carolina’s women’s soccer and USC football have an intimidating presence whenever they compete, one that does not waver under duress or shrink in fear from an opponent’s rally.

The 2004 Irish have the talent. They just need to win the big ones.

This weekend’s games will not provide a definitive answer as to the greatness of this year’s Irish squad.

That will have to wait until the postseason.

But high profile match-ups like Stanford and Santa Clara are the next best thing to playoff soccer.

Two wins would certainly be a step in the right direction.

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

Contact Matt Mooney at mmooney@nd.edu