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Women’s Soccer Analysis: ND ready to take home another Big East championship

Fran Tolan | Thursday, September 11, 2008

Surprise, surprise … Notre Dame is once again the team to beat in the Big East. Beginning with their first conference matchup against DePaul on Sept. 19, the No.2 Irish will look to capture their 11th Big East crown in 13 seasons.

And the soaring Irish – who defeated No. 3 North Carolina and No. 12 Duke over the weekend – will be flying anywhere but under the radar.

“We’ll definitely be out there with targets on our backs …,” Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum said. “I do think teams will be gunning for us.”

But so what? Every year the Irish play each of their games against an opponent fighting for the win of its season. Other teams look for resume-building victories against Notre Dame. But much more often than not, the Irish send their conference challengers home with a David Spade-style “Buhbye.”

In fact, the team is riding a 12-year, 72-match unbeaten streak in the conference. Waldrum attributed his team’s staggering Big East success to its game-by-game approach.

“The [players] are very good about heading into the Big East season with a workmanlike attitude,” he said. “You don’t hear them talking about any games other than the next one.”

The Irish would be wise to maintain that mindset because Waldrum said the conference has improved dramatically since its inception.

“The conference, every year, gets better and better,” he said. “In the 10 years since I’ve been [at Notre Dame], I’ve seen it grow a whole lot … And this year we expect the conference to be fantastic.”

In addition to the traditional Big East powers, Waldrum named Rutgers and Villanova as new viable threats.

“Those two teams are off to fantastic starts and we get [to play] them both,” he said.

Notre Dame was the unanimous preseason pick to repeat as Big East National Division champions. Marquette and South Florida, who are both in the Big East American Division, are uncommon foes on the Irish schedule. Waldrum said he is looking forward to those contests because the Irish do not typically have the opportunity to face those teams.

“Those are two good teams we’re excited for because we normally don’t get to play them,” he said. “Marquette always gives us a really tough game so that should be a battle.”

In the end, though, the Irish should end up contending with Connecticut and West Virginia for the Big East crown. West Virginia, which was the preseason selection to win the American Division, defeated Notre Dame in the conference title game last year in a shootout. The Mountaineers are not on the Irish regular-season slate but Waldrum said his team might very well end up facing its pesky rivals.

“There could be a great possibility that we see them in the [Big East] tournament,” he said. “And I know our kids would love the opportunity to play them again because we didn’t feel like we played as well as we should have in that game [last season].”

So the Irish are still disappointed about losing the conference title game in a shootout even though they went on to the College Cup semifinals as one of the top four teams in the nation last season.

Add “extremely high expectations” to the list of reasons for Notre Dame’s unprecedented Big East success.