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Women’s Soccer: Celebrate good times

Deirdre Krasula | Thursday, September 18, 2008

The 2008 season is one full of milestones for the Irish, and some of them have nothing to do with their No. 1 ranking.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Notre Dame women’s soccer program as well as Randy Waldrum’s 10th year as head coach. And those two decades have seen a lot of change for women’s soccer under the golden dome.

The women have gone from borrowing men’s uniforms and playing in a pasture to awaiting the arrival of a new stadium. And their skill level hasn’t suffered either.

The 20 years have seen numerous NCAA Final Fours and a national title in 2004. And Waldrum has been there for the height of the Irish glory.

Waldrum took over for the Irish in 1999 after a stint coaching at Baylor, and immediately made a mark. The Irish entered postseason play that year ranked No. 5 and Waldrum led them all the way to the title game. The Irish fell 2-0 to North Carolina, but even in losing, Waldrum had made a name for himself. Waldrum had taken his team further than any first-year coach in Div. I women’s history. But his soccer career had started long before that.

Waldrum grew up in Irving, Tex., at a time when soccer was far from a national game. He went on to play at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Tex. Waldrum played professionally in the American Soccer League a few years before the league folded. He realized the only way to stay with the game he loved was to take up coaching – and that’s just what he did. Waldrum returned to Irving to teach political science and coach at his old high school. But moving to the sideline didn’t come easy.

“The transition part was difficult from a player to a coach because you want to hang on to your playing career as long as you can,” Waldrum said. “So I had to change my whole thought process from a player to a coach.”

So Waldrum gathered as much coaching experience as he could, at times coaching four teams at once, from the high school level, to the Olympic Developmental Program, to part-time gigs with small college programs.

Waldrum spent six seasons coaching both the men and women’s programs at the University of Texas, continuing to learn. From Tulsa, Waldrum went on to coach at Baylor, his last pit stop en route to Notre Dame.

And coaching at a program like Notre Dame is equivalent to gold for Waldrum.

“I don’t know when I first started [here] if I would have thought I would have made it 10 years or not,” he said. “It’s really special to me to be here that long, it’s kind of one of those jobs [that is] the end-all job, it’s what you worked hard at. I spent 19 years coaching before I really got this opportunity and it’s one of those things you always aspire to get. It’s a special place, and 10 years means a lot.”

There’s a reason Waldrum has stayed at Notre Dame for 10 years and brought the Irish so much success – his commitment to the sport. And for Waldrum that means traveling to as many seminars and schools as he can to keep learning about the game. And he relays that information to his players, seeing himself not solely as a coach.

“I’m a coach, but I’m an educator, I’m a teacher,” Waldrum said. “And what I’m doing instead of teaching biology, I’m teaching soccer, so I’m teaching the tactics, and I’m teaching the skills of the game … that’s kind of allowed me to keep my composure a little bit and keep that progression.”

His desire to teach the game has taken Waldrum to Europe to obtain his UEFA license, something few American coaches can boast. But that’s just another way to deepen his love for soccer, and in the process create a team like the current No. 1 Irish.

“I fell in love with the coaching aspect as much as I did playing and that’s kind of what’s kept my competitiveness going strong,” Waldrum said. “That will to develop players and try to get the best teams I could on the field [is] the way I found my outlet.”