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ND Women’s Soccer: Top-ranked Notre Dame cruises into postseason

Tim Dougherty | Friday, October 27, 2006

After sprinting through its non-conference and Big East regular season 18-0-1 as the nation’s only undefeated team, No. 1 Notre Dame begins the third leg of coach Randy Waldrum’s professed four-phase journey when it hosts its Big East quarterfinal 1 p.m. Sunday at Alumni Field as the top seed.

The Irish welcome fourth-seeded St. John’s (10-4-4, 5-3-3 Big East) after they beat fifth-seeded Seton Hall 2-0 Thursday in the first round of the tournament.

St. John’s is one of only four Big East teams Notre Dame hasn’t faced this year, along with Syracuse, South Florida and Marquette. Since the Irish did not play St. John’s last year, either, Waldrum and the staff are still waiting to look at tapes of the Red Storm today to break down their style.

Waldrum said he will be especially relying on assistant coach and son Ben Waldrum this week to analyze that tape.

“I don’t know much about [St. John’s],” Waldrum said. “The rest of this week we’re going to get as much info on them. Ben pretty much gathers the information on all the opposition and breaks those teams down. I concentrate on our team with game preparation.”

Judging by the Storm’s record alone, which includes a 0-0 tie against third-seeded Rutgers and a 3-1 regular season win over Seton Hall, Waldrum said he expects a challenge.

“They’ve had some really good results and held their own in conference, which tells me they’ve got to have some ability to finish where they are,” Waldrum said. “They’ve had some good results against some good teams.”

Styles aside, Waldrum knows his squad must come motivated to enter the single-elimination tournament, especially considering an NCAA Tournament berth is at stake for their opponent and home field advantage is on the line for the Irish.

“We would expect any team late in the season to play their best soccer,” he said. “They’re a team you clearly can’t take lightly. A couple years ago, [the] University of Miami came here and took us into overtime. You just can’t take it lightly in a playoff game because you don’t get a second shot at it. Our approach won’t be any different than approaching a [North] Carolina or Santa Clara or someone of that caliber.”

The Irish enter Sunday’s contest on a four game winning streak after suffering their only blemish this season, a 0-0 tie at Connecticut Oct. 13.

Notre Dame concluded the regular season with a 3-0 victory over Cincinnati Tuesday, squashing the Bearcats Big East tournament hopes. Sophomore strikers Kerri Hanks and Brittany Bock and freshman forward Michele Weissenhofer all scored goals as the unit has solidified itself as one of the fiercest attacks in the country, with Hanks’ 15 goals ranking fourth in the nation and Weissenhofer’s 15 assists ranking first. That balance up front is crucial to their tournament success, according to Waldrum.

“I think if you’ve got it spread out like that, it means the team is playing well as a group,” he said. “All three are so different in the way they play. When they’re all playing well like that, it’s very difficult to shut all of them down.”

Eyeing its ninth Big East championship, Waldrum says Notre Dame is ready to take on the second half of the season.

“With this team, in the history of the program, the playoffs are really what you get excited about,” he said. “It’s good to get into that part of it. Now you have to step it up another notch. We’re looking forward to it.”