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Women’s Soccer: View from the top

Joe Meixell | Friday, September 26, 2008

As one of the four remaining unbeaten and untied teams in the country, No. 1-ranked Notre Dame will take on Louisville at home tonight then travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bearcats Sunday.

Despite their top ranking, the Irish said they do not feel any added pressure to remain unbeaten.

“I’d say [the ranking] is always in the back of your mind because other teams see you and there’s a target on your back,” senior co-captain Brittany Bock said. “But for us, we always take it one game at a time and play every game like we’re 0-0-0.”

But Notre Dame’s record is in fact 8-0-0 and coach Randy Waldrum said his team is used to being the team to beat.

“I think it would be quite different if this was the first time we were ever No. 1,” he said. “But I think we know how to handle it … We’ve got players like [Bock] who have handled this.”

Waldrum also said that simply playing under the shadow of the Golden Dome makes his players comfortable with the national spotlight on them.

“I think that, just being Notre Dame, we’re used to that,” the coach said. “We’re everyone’s big game on their schedule and it’s just this campus that does that.”

Tonight, Louisville will attempt to stop Notre Dame’s unbeaten streak short of double digits.

Last season when the two teams met, the visiting Irish eked out a 1-0 win.

“With Louisville last year, we had a little bit of a difficult time …” Bock said. “We just have to focus on coming in and playing aggressively. We need to respect them but at the same time play our game and take care of business.”

Despite its 3-3-1 record, Waldrum said Louisville is a dangerous squad because they are capable of staying in the game against top-tier opponents.

“What it looks like is they play to the level of their opponent,” he said.

The Cardinals lost a heartbreaker in double-overtime to No. 9 Texas three weeks ago before falling 3-2 to No. 12 Oklahoma State on Sept. 12. Their most recent contest was a 2-1 setback at Ohio State in overtime last Sunday.

“They’re coming off a tough loss to Ohio State,” Waldrum said. “You almost wish they came in with a win so they weren’t so hungry for a win.”

After the home game Friday night, the Irish will travel to take on another Big East opponent in Cincinnati.

Under first-year coach Michelle Salmon, Cincinnati has been inconsistent this season, alternating wins and losses en route to a 4-4-0 record.

Bock said the tough early-season stretch for the Bearcats mirrors the experience Notre Dame had last year. In 2007, the Irish struggled to a 3-4-1 record to open the season.

“A team like that can be very vulnerable; we were like that last year where every game you have to fight for it,” she said. “We need to put the game away right away in the beginning. Hopefully we can do that and it won’t even be close at the end.”

Waldrum said the matchup with Cincinnati is a challenge partly because the Bearcats have a sub par playing field.

“It’s not an ideal facility, it actually has a big garage next to it and it’s Astroturf,” Waldrum said. “It’s basically not the type of field that soccer should be played on.”

Waldrum compared the field to DePaul’s complex. Last Friday the host Blue Demons, who are just 2-7-0, kept the game close and lost just 1-0 on a late goal to the Irish.

Waldrum said the most important thing for the Irish this weekend is not to take either Louisville or Cincinnati lightly.

“Of course people on campus are talking about us being No. 1 and you see the ‘#1’ sign [atop Grace Hall] lit up,” he said. “But these girls have been through this enough to know that the ranking isn’t winning the games for us. We still have to go out and win the games.”