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ND Women’s Soccer Commentary: Cinalli leads Irish by example, puts squad ahead of self

Bill Brink | Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Amanda Cinalli will be the first to tell you that one player does not make a team. But when watching her play, that can be hard to believe.The day is Sept. 14. Cinalli, the senior captain, was held out of practice all week because of hip problems and is not in the starting lineup. She checks into the game in the 25th minute. Within seconds, she streaks up the middle of the field and sends a shot into the right side of the net for her first goal of the season. She’ll score again, tapping in one of sophomore forward Michelle Weissenhofer’s flip throws, and will also notch an assist on junior forward Kerri Hanks’ goal. Notre Dame wins 4-2.Cinalli’s talent has not gone unnoticed. She was placed on the 45-player preseason Hermann Trophy watch list and was named to the preseason All-Big East team. She shared the 2007 Francis Patrick O’Connor award – which honors characteristics such as team spirit and inspiration for Notre Dame student athletes – with hockey captain T.J. Jindra. She was also a member of the Under-21 National Team that has played in the past two Nordic Cups. Despite her individual honors, Cinalli remains humble.”Obviously our whole team is critically important for our entire offense,” said Cinalli, only the third Irish captain in the program’s 20 years. “It’s not just one person. I think everyone brings a unique part to the game.” Cinalli isn’t just being modest; instead, she’s using what coach Randy Waldrum refers to as her “soccer brain” to understand that while she clearly has talent, she’s still a cog in a system that requires that the necessary pieces be present for completion. Waldrum said each of Notre Dame’s forwards brings a different skill set to the offense, and that the combination of those skill sets keeps opposing teams from focusing on one player.”The thing we’ve always liked about our team, and Amanda fits into that puzzle great, is we have three different kinds of players up front,” Waldrum said. “She’s the one that has that ability to be creative, she’s got probably the most overall skill level of the three forwards. She’s more technical, she’s more clean with the ball, she can beat you off the dribble.”Cinalli attributed her creativity in large part to her relationship with Hanks, with whom she has developed an on-field rapport. “She’s so creative, so technical, she knows the game so well,” Cinalli said. “It’s really fun to play with her because you can do a lot of good fun combinations with her. Since we’ve been playing together for the past three years we kind of understand where we’re going to go with the ball. We kind of anticipate … each other and work really well together.”It’s Cinalli’s ability to cooperate with her teammates that allows her to play multiple positions. She started the first three games at forward, but played the last three at midfield.”I just felt like, with the three forwards, we were struggling a little bit to hold the ball up front,” Waldrum said. “We just didn’t have anybody that was doing a good job of holding it.”Waldrum made an allusion to the low-post position in basketball. The Irish struggled at times with getting the ball in the box and holding it there so other players can get open for a shot. Cinalli, who likes both positions and has played both since childhood, understands the roles she is expected to fill.”If [I’m playing] in the midfield, [my role is] trying to control the ball and playmake and play up to the forward’s feet,” Cinalli said. “If it’s up front, it’s being able to hold on to the ball and turn and get some goals.” Cinalli’s soccer brain knows exactly what she should be doing on every possession.”You’re trying to think one step ahead of the game,” she said.Without the ball, she tries to spread the field and make room for her teammates or make her way deep into the attacking third for a long pass. With the ball, she looks for one-touch passes to her teammates.No matter where she is or what position she plays, Cinalli exemplifies the role of captain with both her skill and attitude.”I just try to go out there every game and play with my heart, work my hardest,” she said. “I’m out there for my teammates the whole time, and I never stop until that ending whistle blows.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.Contact Bill Brink at wbrink@nd.edu