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ND Women’s Soccer Commentary: It’s all or nothing for the nation’s best squad

Chris Khorey | Friday, November 10, 2006

Two months and 21 games after it first started play, Notre Dame’s season begins now.The No. 1 Irish have known since August that the one and only goal for this team is a national championship, and that quest starts tonight at Alumni Field against Oakland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.The Irish ran roughshod over their regular season opponents, going 20-0-1 and beating two top-10 teams in Santa Clara and West Virginia. They added a feather to their cap in the Big East championship with a 4-2 victory over Rutgers last Saturday.But none of that was enough. Because for a team with this much talent and senior leadership, each win and each milestone is just another stop on the road to the College Cup finals in Cary, N.C.Senior captain Kim Lorenzen summed it up perfectly after the Rutgers game.”Our ultimate goal is to win the national championship,” she said without hesitation when asked about the importance of the Big East championship.Senior midfielder Jen Buczkowski took it one step further. “Anything less than a national championship would be a big disappointment,” she said. “Losing is not acceptable for us.”Not acceptable, because in coach Randy Waldrum’s program, national championships aren’t just goals – they’re expectations.And why shouldn’t they be, especially in years like this? Why should the nation’s only unbeaten team – and arguably the best squad in Notre Dame history – be satisfied with anything less than a perfect run to a national title?The 2006 Irish feature several players who have national team experience, including two – Brittany Bock and Carrie Dew – who missed part of this season competing in the U-20 World Championships in Russia. The Irish have one of the nation’s best scorers in Kerri Hanks, one of the country’s best freshman in Michele Weissenhofer and a National Player of the Year candidate in Buczkowski. And that’s not counting the host of the other players that would be stars on any other squad.Of course, this team isn’t just a collection of talent. It’s also coached well and has a group of seniors who – at 86-7-2 over the course of their careers, with one national title already secured – know how to get the job done.”As a senior, knowing what it feels like to win a national championship and knowing what it’s like to get knocked out early, we’ve experienced it all,’ Buczkowski said. “Winning is a lot better feeling.”For the most part, Waldrum lets that senior leadership have free reign. While other coaches rant and rave, Waldrum sits calmly on the sideline, making the occasional (brilliant) tactical change and offering quiet words of encouragement. This low-pressure approach has worked like a charm; the Irish look loose every game and have outscored their opponents 67-7 this year.The calm demeanor, however, masks Waldrum’s high expectations. The team’s unwavering focus on the lofty goal of a national title comes straight from the top. He strives for perfection, and so do his players.After a miscommunication between Lorenzen and backup goalkeeper Kelsey Lysander resulted in a meaningless goal by Rutgers Sunday, Lorenzen was visibly frustrated and said pointedly after the game that it “won’t happen again.”While a goal like that had little impact on Sunday’s game, Lorenzen worried a repeat could derail an entire season.After all, this is soccer, and even an 8-10-1 Golden Grizzlies squad that snuck into the Tournament by winning the Mid-Continent conference tournament can beat the mighty Irish if one Notre Dame player loses focus and Oakland scores a cheap goal.But the Irish won’t let that happen. Because they know that even if Oakland is objectively one of the weakest teams they’ve faced all year, this game is the most important of the season so far.This team’s goal since August has been a national championship. It has the talent, experience and coaching to do it. It has been clearly the best team in America all season, but right now that means nothing. The Irish have six more games that they must win or this season will go down as a disappointment, and each of those teams will be gunning for them.Notre Dame has been traveling on the freeway to the College Cup all regular season, but now comes the NCAA Tournament exit.And just because the Irish have the biggest and fastest car doesn’t mean the traffic won’t be heavy.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Chris Khorey at ckhorey@nd.edu