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Finally, four

Matt Mooney | Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Irish shouldn’t have to deal with any more snow where they’re headed.

Fourth-seeded Notre Dame (23-1-1) will make the trip to Cary, N.C. for the Final Four of the Women’s College Cup following Friday’s 3-1 NCAA quarterfinal win over fifth-seeded Portland (20-4-0) at Alumni Field.

Despite the cold and sloppy conditions, Irish freshman Amanda Cinalli lit up the scoreboard with two goals and teammate Katie Thorlakson tacked on a goal and two assists to send Notre Dame to its seventh national semifinal appearance in program history.

“It’s indescribable, this feeling,” Cinalli said. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet, I don’t think it will until I get [to Cary].”

To get to that point, the Irish had to deal with Mother Nature as well as the Pilots. Before the game, a plow had to clear a layer of snow off the field to make conditions playable. However, the ground had not yet frozen, and the field quickly turned to mud.

“It just was really really wet,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said, “But it really didn’t seem to change the quality of the game that much. We really moved the ball well and kept it more on the ground than I thought either team would be able to.”

Irish players were forced to deal with the adverse weather conditions after South Bend saw snow all day Wednesday.

“Your first step is obviously not going to be as fast as normal, but we actually played pretty well,” defender Gudrun Gunnarsdottir said. “We’re probably more used to playing in conditions like that than Portland. We dealt with it real well.”

Despite the messy conditions, Cinalli got Notre Dame off to a quick start when she scored in the game’s fourth minute. Junior Annie Schefter took a pass from Thorlakson and then lifted a high crossing pass which Cinalli headed in to the left side of the net. She notched her second goal with just over 15 minutes to play in the first half. This time Thorlakson set her up right in front of the goal to give the Irish a 2-0 halftime lead.

“The first half, [Portland] rarely even got out of their end,” Waldrum said. “It was huge to go into the locker room up two goals.”

However, the Pilots responded in the second half with a much more aggressive offensive attack. Portland’s player-of-the-year candidate Chris-tine Sinclair cut the Notre Dame lead in half with a goal 12 minutes into the second half.

But the Irish put the game with a goal from its own player-of-the-year candidate. Thorlakson scored directly off of a corner kick just five minutes later to halt Portland’s momentum. The kick curved as it headed towards the goal and snuck in under the crossbar for Thorlakson’s team-leading 22nd goal of the season.

“We picked it up right after [the Portland] goal and started playing well again,” Gunnarsdottir said. “They had a span of maybe 20 minutes when they had [control] in the game but after that we just picked it up.

The Notre Dame defense played its usual solid game despite yielding its first goal of the NCAA tournament to Sinclair. The defense still limited the Pilots to only three shots on goal and only two corner kicks.

Meanwhile, the Irish offense was in high gear, led by the play of Cinalli. The three goals were the most the Pilot defense has allowed all season.

“It says how well Amanda has really done this year. Ten goals [on the season] for a freshman is incredible,” Waldrum said.

“My teammates make it easy,” Cinalli said. “The passes they gave me for the goals were beautiful passes.”

Her two goals produced a win that has a two-fold significance for her coach. The victory gives Waldrum 300 wins as a collegiate head coach and also marks the third time he has advanced to the Final Four in his six-year coaching tenure with the Irish.