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One win six times equals one championship

Matt Mooney | Friday, November 12, 2004

Clichés are a journalist’s nightmare.As the type of people who are supposed to have some creative ability in the realm of the written word, we sports writers get our jollies from the creative sound byte. Muhammed Ali, Dennis Rodman and Shaquille O’Neal are notable wellsprings of quotable gold.So when several team members told me early in the season that they were just “taking one game at a time,” I nodded, smiled and tried to rephrase the question to get a different answer.But when that same axiom kept rearing its head week after week, even from the coach, I was beginning to doubt my ability to ask an effective question.The realization soon dawned on me that the generic answers were not a result of bored interviewees (or so I hoped) but rather the product of a team which knows first-hand the dangers of looking ahead.The ghosts of the 2003 meltdown still haunt Notre Dame. Last year, the Irish reached the heights of a No. 2 ranking with an 18-0-1 record during the regular season only to tragically falter in three of their last five games. A Big East semifinal loss to Boston College and two losses to Michigan, once in the regular season finale and again to end the season in the second round of the NCAA tournament, left Notre Dame with no titles and only bitter memories of an otherwise sweet season.Therefore, “take one game at a time” became the team’s mantra for the 2004 season. To safeguard against a letdown, coach Randy Waldrum broke down the season into small chunks, the non-conference games, the Big East conference schedule and finally the post-season. Each of those segments breaks down into the individual games, essentially giving the Irish 21 one-game seasons.Thus far, the formula seems to have worked. Notre Dame hit No. 1 in the collegiate polls for much of the season. The Irish finished the regular season unbeaten for the fourth time in program history. Connecticut had to come from behind to defeat them in the Big East Championship game.But Notre Dame is at the point in its season where one slipup can mean only a long, cold South Bend winter to ponder what could have been. To avoid this, to instead bask in the Caribbean-like glow of a national championship, the Irish will need to break down each game so as to halt a resurfacing trend. During the loss to Connecticut, the Huskies had only two shots on goal but converted both into scores. Similarly, in their two postseason losses last year, the Irish only allowed four total shots on goal but three found the back of the net. The Notre Dame offense provided little support, only combining for two goals in the three games.The Irish stars will have to step up to turn this trend around. The postseason is the time when National Player of the Year candidates Katie Thorlakson and Melissa Tancredi need to back up those nominations. They need to be the first to embrace the challenge put before them and set an example for rest of their teammates.After all the regular season success, this team is under tremendous pressure to win and to avenge last year’s failure. The stars and the leaders are the ones who can turn that pressure into an equally large opportunity, a chance to show the nation the extent of their greatness.This is chance for the Irish to be great, but they can’t look past anyone. They should just go out there and have fun, remembering that there’s no “I” in the word “team” but only as long as they take one game at a time.