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ND Women’s Soccer: Need for speed

Tim Dougherty | Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Senior midfielder Jill Krivacek knows when to step up her game.

The first goal of her sophomore season broke a 0-0 tie in the 90th minute of an NCAA second round win over Wisconsin. Three weeks later she ended another 0-0 tie by striking Notre Dame’s decisive shootout score to beat UCLA for the National Championship in penalty kicks.

Of Krivacek’s five career goals entering this season, three were game winners – offensive icing on the cake for the holding midfielder who was named 2005 Big East Tournament defensive MVP. So when she watched her NCAA quarterfinal midfield assignment – Portland’s Megan Rapinoe – rip off two goals and an assist to knock the Irish out of last year’s tournament 3-1, Krivacek took it personally.

“I felt I got destroyed,” Krivacek said of the matchup. “I knew I was not quick enough. I knew that I could be a good athlete but I needed to be quicker, leaner and stronger.”

So instead of waiting until the final minute, she spent her entire summer rising to the challenge. She ate better and she worked out harder. Always known for her imposing 5-foot-11 frame and physical presence in the middle of the field, Krivacek brought a sleeker build back to campus this fall.

“Physically she’s taken care of herself and is in the best fitness level she’s been in her career here,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said.

Early in the season, it has already shown. In just six games Krivacek has 11 points on four goals and three assists – three more points than she recorded in her entire 2005 season – including the game-winning assist in a 2-1 win at Ole Miss and the game-tying second-half goal against Santa Clara that propelled the Irish to a 3-1 win. Always a threat with her head (the source of her assist at Ole Miss), the midfielder is proving she can create mismatches in the midfield with her athleticism as well.

Like anyone else, Krivacek enjoys finding the net every once in awhile, but the senior said she just wants to contribute in any way she can to make her final season a special one.

“I realized this is my last season and eight of us [seniors] realized this is what we’re playing for – this is it,” Krivacek said. “Being the fittest I’ve really been, I give Coach another option at attacking mid because I’m a little bit more mobile. It’s a position you have to be very fit to play.”

The Geneva, Ill., native knows what it’s like not to be able to help her team. After making six starts as a freshman and 23 as a sophomore, a late knee injury in last year’s 2-1 loss to Santa Clara left her out of commission for a quarter of the season. Though she played through the pain for the rest of the game, discouraging MRI results later that week forced her to miss seven games – including a 4-1 loss at Marquette that was as painful as the injury itself.

“It was frustrating not to be able to be there and help them out,” she said. “It’s not only not playing – when you’re hurt you feel you’re not part of the team because you’re out rehabbing and not at practice. And that hurt because I love this team.”

When she finally returned, it took five games for Krivacek to crack the starting lineup – just in time for a defensive MVP performance in the Big East tournament – as the Irish rolled off 12 straight wins before Krivacek’s conditioning and Rapinoe caught up with her.

Krivacek’s hard work this off-season to prepare for another battle with Portland’s sophomore midfielder is typical of a work ethic that has sparked her continuous improvement, according to her coach.

“She’s one of those players I can genuinely look back on her four-year career and say she got better every year,” Waldrum said. “She’s four years better, not just four years older.”

No one appreciates that improvement more than senior captain defender Kim Lorenzen, who has played behind Krivacek year-round since 2003, winning national championships together in NCAA play for Notre Dame as well as in the summer Olympic Developmental Program as members of the Illinois ODP team.

“She’s gotten so much better and grounded this team,” Lorenzen said. “She’s really made a position for herself in the center mid and made a role where she’s going to be really hard to replace.”

She is also expected to lead a team vying for its second national title in three years.

“She’s not a real vocal leader on the field,” Waldrum said. “But she’s very charismatic with the team. The team gravitates toward her. On and off the field, she’s in the center of everything that going on.”

As a player, that role now seems limitless. Considering Waldrum’s dissatisfaction with the defense thus far, could she even slip back to protect the net with Lorenzen?

“She’s certainly so key for us for all we do in the midfield, I’d hate to do that,” Waldrum said. “Right now she’s such an integral part of making that flow for us in the midfield … but there’s no question she could do that for us if she needed to.”

Krivacek, meanwhile, isn’t interested in that idle speculation – or being pigeonholed as anything less than a complete midfielder.

“I feel I’m strong defensively and helping out on the attack,” she said. “Whether it’s scoring or setting up other people I feel my game has grown.

“I’m a midfielder.”

Midfielder. No qualifications necessary. Not anymore.