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Pair of nail-biters keeps No. 1 Irish undefeated

Matt Mooney | Monday, September 20, 2004

After establishing itself as the team to beat through the first six games of its non-conference schedule, No. 1 Notre Dame carried that reputation through its first two games of Big East conference play as well.The Irish (8-0-0) emerged unscathed from their first weekend as the top team in the nation, posting a pair of narrow one-goal victories on the road by blanking Connecticut 1-0 on Friday and closing out Syracuse 2-1 on Sunday.Both games were very close, and it took a clutch goal with under eight minutes to play in each contest to decide the game. Freshman Amanda Cinalli buried her fourth goal of the year in the upper right corner of the net with 6:26 to play against Connecticut to give the Irish their only goal of the game Friday.On Sunday, Katie Thorlakson continued her torrid offensive pace by notching her team-high sixth goal in the 83rd minute to give the Irish the lead over Syracuse. The goal was Thorlakson’s third game-winning goal this season.Meanwhile, the Notre Dame defense, led by Big East Defensive Player of the Week Melissa Tancredi, continued to suffocate opposing offenses, limiting both the Huskies and the Orange to only two shots on goal. The Irish have barely allowed any of their opponents to shoot, much less to score. Their defense has allowed just 21 shots on goal in eight games.It didn’t take long for the Irish to face a stiff challenge from a conference opponent as the Huskies gave Notre Dame a dogfight in the Big East opener Friday night. In what turned out to be a defensive struggle, the Huskies did everything to keep the Irish out of the net. UConn goalkeeper Megan Jessee was solid and often spectacular, making six saves and also received some help when her defenders cleared two other Irish shots off the goal line. Notre Dame didn’t help its own cause either, hitting the crossbar twice.But the Irish roster seems to get deeper every game. Senior defender Kate Tulisiak scored the first point of her career when she intercepted a pass and then assisted on Cinalli’s game-winning goal. Tulisiak missed much of the 2003 season with a back injury but is making the most of her senior-year comeback.”It’s an awesome feeling to be able to contribute to the team like I was able to do tonight,” she told und.com. “Last spring, I gained a lot of confidence just playing in games and the same goes with this summer””Our depth was a key tonight because of the tempo of the game,” Waldrum said. “It was end-to-end, like an NBA game.”Syracuse gave the Irish a scare as well. After sophomore Jen Buczkowski’s fourth goal of the season gave the Irish a 1-0 lead early in the first half, Notre Dame held the lead until Syracuse’s Kelly Bailey sailed a crossing pass into the Irish net to even the score at one. The feat was a rare one as only two other schools in the last 37 games have come from behind to tie the Irish. But with 7:11 to play, Thorlakson took a pass from Candace Chapman and knocked the ball past Orange goalkeeper Shannon Myers to provide the difference in the game.Despite the win, Waldrum wants his players to remain sharp with a lead. “We basically stopped playing until they tied it up,” he said. “It was frustrating not to put them away when we had the chance.”Notre Dame is now one of only five teams remaining in the 308-team pool of Division 1 collegiate soccer with an undefeated record. This marks the ninth time in the last 13 years the Irish have been perfect through eight games.