Gone to Carolina
Chris Khorey | Friday, December 1, 2006
No. 1 Notre Dame is 24-0-1 this season.
The Irish have outscored their opponents 82-8 and have recorded 18 shutouts, including not allowing a goal in their last three tournament games.
Right now, none of that matters.
Notre Dame will travel to Cary, N.C. this weekend for a College Cup semifinal match-up with No. 5 Florida State 6:30 p.m. today at SAS Soccer Park.
If the Irish get past the Seminoles, they will take on the winner of No. 3 UCLA and co-No. 1 North Carolina for a chance to reach the one goal Notre Dame has focused on since August – the National Championship.
“We’ve done everything we possibly can so far, so if we can win the whole thing, that would be good,” sophomore forward Kerri Hanks said.
Irish coach Randy Waldrum, who will be taking Notre Dame to its fourth final four in eight years as head coach, said that although expectations are high for his top-ranked squad, he doesn’t expect them to be effected by the pressure.
“There’s no added pressure to get this far because we expected this,” Waldrum said. “Just the fact that we’re Notre Dame sometimes adds pressure and when you add the ‘No. 1’ tag to that, we always get the other team’s best effort.”
For the Irish upperclassmen, this weekend represents a chance to win their second National Championship in three years. Notre Dame beat UCLA for the 2004 title, but lost to Portland in the quarterfinals last year.
“Our group knows how to win every time they step on the field,” Waldrum said. “That’s a credit to our seniors and our younger players have bought into it.”
The Irish have torn through their opposition so far in the NCAA tournament, outscoring Oakland, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Colorado and Penn State by a combined score of 16-1.
Forwards Michele Weissenhofer, Brittany Bock and Hanks have combined for 10 goals in the four games.
“I feel like we’ve played very well lately,” Waldrum said. “We’ve been solid defensively and gotten good chances on offense. But I still hope our best two games are ahead of us.”
The Seminoles come into today’s game 18-3-4, with two of their three losses coming to the Tar Heels. Florida State has made the College Cup Semis in three of the last four seasons. Last season, they fell 4-0 to UCLA in the semifinal.
“Florida State’s got a really good team and a really up and coming program,” Waldrum said. “They’re very athletic.”
The Seminoles beat Clemson 2-1 last Friday to advance to this year’s semifinals.
Florida State is led offensively by forward Selin Kuralay. The junior from Melbourne, Australia has scored 13 goals and dished out three assists so far this season.
Freshman midfielder Becky Edwards leads most Seminole counterattacks, finding open teammates to the tune of eight assists this season.
Florida State will play a defensive style against the aggressive Irish, relying on a defense that has allowed just .59 goals per game this season and has registered 11 shutouts.
“They’ll bunker in and look to counter-attack,” Waldrum said. “We’re going to have to be patient offensively because they’ll put a lot of people in the box.”
If the Irish can get by the Seminoles, they will face either the Bruins or Tar Heels. UCLA (21-3) is appearing in its fourth semifinal in four years, while North Carolina (25-1) is looking to add to already impressive tradition in women’s soccer.
The Tar Heels have won 18 national titles in the 25 years since the NCAA started awarding women’s soccer National Championships.
“You look back and it’s ‘North Carolina, North Carolina, North Carolina,” Hanks said. “We have tremendous respect for them and their program.”
North Carolina’s only loss this year came on Aug. 25, 1-0 in double overtime against Texas A&M in College Station.
The Tar Heels have won 25 straight games since then, including shutting out 15 opponents.
u Both the seminfinals and final this weekend are expected to draw over 7,000 fans, easily the largest crowd the Irish have played in front of this year.
“[The crowd] shouldn’t be a big deal,” senior captain Kim Lorenzen said. “It’ll be just like any other big game.”
u Today’s game will be televised live on ESPN U and carried on tape delay on ESPN 2 at noon on Saturday. Sunday’s contest will be televised live on ESPN 2