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Notre Dame Women’s Soccer: Alive and kickin’

Tim Dougherty | Sunday, November 26, 2006

While the tournament opponents Notre Dame sent home eat leftover turkey this weekend, the Irish hope to feast on Lions when they welcome Penn State to Alumni Field Friday in a 7:30 p.m. Elite Eight showdown for the right to keep playing.

No. 1 Notre Dame (23-0-1) comes off a 3-0 win over No. 16 Colorado last Friday, in which sophomore forwards Brittany Bock (two goals) and Kerri Hanks (one goal, one assist) led the Irish into Friday’s quarterfinal matchup.

In the win, Hanks caught former Irish forwards Katie Thorlakson, Anne Makinen and Monica Gerardo by scoring her 15th career postseason goal.

The Big Ten champions and No. 2 seed Lions (18-4-3) clawed their way to Alumni Field on a 1-0 win over Boston College Sunday night in University Park, Pa.

Penn State is led by Co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the year defender Ali Kreiger, one of 15 finalists for the Hermann Trophy, given to the nation’s best player. She joins Notre Dame’s Hanks and senior midfielder Jen Buczkowski on that list.

Penn State is no stranger to the Elite Eight. The Lady Lions will be making their eighth appearance in the 13 years of the program, while Notre Dame clocks its 10th trip in that same time. Still, Friday’s match will be just the second between the two powerhouses and the first since Notre Dame downed Penn State 2-1 in the 2001 season opener.

“Penn State historically has a great program,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said, adding that the Lions have several players he recruited. “It’s definitely going to be like a Final Four game. They’re a very good team.”

Friday will be the 101st game played by this historic senior class and the last time it suits up to play in front of its home crowd. After going 90-7-3 in the previous 100 matches – including 52-2-1 at home – the Irish must win this final home stand to advance to the College Cup semifinals in Cary, NC. Not surprisingly, emotions should run high when the Irish seniors take Alumni Field for the last time.

“I think it’s going to be sad to play my last home game but at the same time it’s going be exhilarating because I know the feeling what it’s like to win on your home field during NCAA time at Thanksgiving,” senior defender Christie Shaner said after the Irish beat Colorado. “And hopefully we can pull that off again and make it to the Final Four and have a run at the championship.”

Shaner knows the influence playing in front of a home crowd can have, and pointed to the 2004 National Championship run as evidence.

“I know two years ago when I was on that national championship team, that made the difference,” she said. “When we played here in the fourth round NCAA game against Portland, that made a world of difference and gave us a huge advantage.”

Throughout the year, the Irish ranked third in the country in home crowd attendance with more than 2,000 per game.

Shaner is still overcoming a bout with meningitis that kept her from practicing the last two weeks and limited her to 26 minutes in Friday’s win. She trained Monday with the Irish, and Waldrum said if she isn’t ready to play 90 minutes Friday, he will utilize her off the bench again as much as he can.

Waldrum said he will have the team to his house for an early Thanksgiving dinner Thursday prepared by his wife Dianna.

“It’s a nice tradition we’ve always done,” he said. “So many kids won’t have the opportunity to go home with us playing. We’re looking forward to that.”

Though Waldrum said the team plans a large feast, they will eat early enough that the Irish will remain hungry for victory Friday night.