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Irish Insider: Fighting proves to be too much for Irish

Tim Dougherty | Monday, December 4, 2006

CARY, N.C. – The gloves were off Sunday against the most storied program in NCAA history.

When sophomore forward Kerri Hanks lined up for the opening kickoff, the Texas native’s bare hands were without the gloves she normally wears in sub-60 degree weather, prepared for the biggest game of the year.

After lasting almost the entire season as the top ranked team in the nation, Hanks and the Irish were ready for a fight against co-No. 1 North Carolina. And a title fight it was on the biggest of stages – in the epicenter of women’s college soccer. There were even scalpers and celebrities like Pat Summit, Roy Williams, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.

But on the field, Notre Dame played North Carolina. And in the 27th game of the season, the unbeaten Irish finally met their match.

If nothing else, Notre Dame fought, whistled for 20 of the game’s 41 fouls. The Irish fought for their lives for the final 20 minutes, trying frantically to become the first team in 186 tries to come back from a 2-0 deficit to Carolina.

In the 81st minute, sophomore forward Brittany Bock emerged from a pile of fallen bodies to lay her head on Hanks’ cross to send it into the net – and spark hope to a fading team.

Hanks had her shot to tie in the 89th minute, but her free kick from 20 yards out sailed right of the goal, beyond diving Tar Heel keeper Anna Rodenbough.

In the end, Notre Dame spent too much time just fighting.

“I was proud of the fact that they came back and made it a game at the end,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “I’m proud that we showed that kind of heart. You find the positives in a big game like that. I just wished we could’ve done it a little bit earlier.”

The Irish faced more pressure than they had seen all year. Tar Heels swarmed to wherever the ball was, suffocating Irish players and preventing them from establishing an offensive rhythm until the end of the second half.

North Carolina outshot Notre Dame for the first time all year, 20-9. That’s a hard deficit to overcome, especially to North Carolina.

“I was quite honestly shocked that we didn’t come out and have that kind [of] intensity that we had the last 15 minutes,” Waldrum said.

Though junior goalkeeper Lauren Karas might like a do-over on the first goal, she kept her team within striking distance by laying out in the air and on the ground for two breathtaking first half saves.

Notre Dame brought a lot Sunday, but when you play Carolina, a lot isn’t good enough. You have to bring everything you have, and then find something extra before it’s too late.

Unfortunately for the Irish, time ran out before they could find it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Tim Dougherty at tdougher@nd.edu