Dan Tapetillo | Friday, November 12, 2004
Going into the NCAA tournament, the Irish will look to the team’s foreign presence to play an integral role in the success of the team’s postseason run.
Canadians Katie Thorlakson, Candace Chapman and Melissa Tancredi have each played pivotal roles in Notre Dame’s 19-1-1 season. Irish coach Randy Waldrum said the Canadian trio has been an important ingredient for the team’s achievements.
“They have been a key to our success,” Waldrum said. “We are a team loaded with talent, but we’d certainly be different without those three.”
Earlier this year, the Irish were faced with the possibility of losing Thorlakson for three weeks.
Thorlakson needed to make the decision of leaving the team to play for the Under-19 national Canadian team. Her participation in the Under-19 World Championships would have caused her to miss the first three rounds of the NCAA Championships.
Thorlakson chose to remain playing for Notre Dame, drawing on the team’s close-knit dynamic to make her decision.
“It was a hard decision,” Thorlakson said. “But I just thought that our team was more like family.”
Thorlakson has made her coaches and teammates proud this season by leading Notre Dame’s cohesive unit offensively all season and putting herself in a position to win the Hermann Trophy award where she is a finalist for the best women’s soccer player in the country.
She began the season with a record-setting performance against Baylor by being the first Irish player ever to score or assist on the first five goals in a game.
She hasn’t slowed down since.
Additionally, Waldrum says Thorlakson brings a sense of team-oriented play to the field, helping her teammates shine in the spotlight instead of adding a goal to her already impressive career.
“Most of the players who are scoring goals are just scoring goals and not really getting the assists,” Waldrum said. “She [Thorlakson] brings so many other people into the game, and it is really rare that you will see somebody get double digits in goals and assists. She has taken upon herself to be that leader, that goal scorer for us and she has done just tremendous with that.”
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. After the impressive performance against Baylor, Thorlakson has earned three Big East offensive player of the week awards and the Big East offensive player of the year honor as well. However, adding to her already impressive list of awards this season has not been Thorlakson’s primary focus.
“It is nice to get the recognition for playing hard, but it is just one step in the road to get the national championship,” Thorlakson said.
Senior defender Tancredi is also expected to play a crucial role in leading the team to make a run at a national championship.
In addition to being a finalist for the Hermann Trophy award, Tancredi also earned her second consecutive Big East defensive player of the year. Thorlakson described her teammate Tancredi as a cornerstone of the Irish defense.
“Our defense is so good this year and [Tancredi] is such a big part of that,” Thorlakson said. “We don’t have to do as much work because we know she is back there taking care of it for us. “
“She separated herself last year from the rest of the pack in the conference, and it is no different this year. But this isn’t just in the Big East. We haven’t seen a person as dominant in the rest of the country as Melissa has been for us,” Waldrum said. “She is so good in the air that the ball does not spend a lot of time in the defensive end. She quickly gets the ball into the attack and it makes the game from being a full field game, 115 yards to a 60 or 70-yard game.”
In addition to the dominance she brings to the backfield, Tancredi serves as a mentor for the team as she was selected as one of the tri-captains for the 2004 season.
Another mentor for the team is Chapman who came back from an ACL injury that caused her to miss the entire 2003 season.
Prior to the injury, Chapman was already a freshman All-American and had earned the 2002 Big East defensive player of the year award.
This year, Waldrum moved Chapman to the forward position, where she has turned into one of the team’s top offensive players.
“Our mindset was that if we can get her back, let’s get her into the attacking end of the field because she is such a dangerous player and such a good athlete,” Waldrum said. “She can strike the ball with both feet so well that we knew she could score goals for us. She adds a whole new dimension offensively that most teams probably aren’t prepared for because they expected her in the back.”
One of Chapman’s top performances this season came during the 3-1 victory over Seton Hall Oct. 24. Chapman scored twice for the Irish. This match served as a culmination to all of her success at that point of the season. She already had scored eight goals during the season in just five games, including three two-goal games.
“She is a huge strength because she is going to work hard for every ball and she is so physical in her plays,” Tancredi said. “If you need her, she will play in the back, and she can play up front. You can put her anywhere and know she will have an impact in the game.”
However, the Irish believe the team puts pressure on the ball no matter where an opposing player tries to attack.
“We see it as a whole unit,” Chapman said.
Heading into the first round against Eastern Illinois, the Canadian unit and the Irish have one goal in mind.
“We are trying to achieve a team that no one has seen and have an intensity that nobody can match for 90 minutes,” Tancredi said. “We have all the skill, we have all the finesse, we have all the athleticism, we just have to put it all together and focus.