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Finding a way to win games

Fran Tolan | Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Throughout much of the second half of Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Michigan State Sunday, a car alarm blared just outside Alumni Field. The noise – coupled with the bitter-cold temperature – certainly annoyed the fans in attendance. But not nearly as much as Michigan State irritated the Irish.

By packing eight players into the defensive half of the field for much of the contest, the pesky Spartans gave the Irish offense one of the best tests it has seen all season.

“I thought Michigan State came in with an idea of really putting a block of eight players back and keeping them tight and compact and then hoping to counter-attack,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said after the game.

But, like every previous Notre Dame opponent this season, the Spartans came up short. The Irish defense was even more impenetrable than Michigan State’s and sophomore Rose Augustin was eventually able to punch one in during the second half.

The conditions at Alumni Field were sloppy and proved to be yet another obstacle for the Irish on a day one of their most physical players – forward Brittany Bock – was sidelined due to an injury.

But in the end, Notre Dame discovered another way to win when that no longer seemed possible. During their current 23-game winning streak, the Irish have come from behind, blown teams out and won with defense. On Sunday, they showed they could triumph in sub-par conditions against a gritty Big Ten opponent.

“Randy [Waldrum] probably said this to everyone millions of times: ‘Good teams find a way to win, whether it’s in the first five minutes or the last second of the game,'” Irish forward Kerri Hanks said.

Hanks epitomized the determination that eventually gave Notre Dame the edge Sunday. Before setting up Augustin’s game-winner, she threw off the leg brace she had been wearing on her injured knee.

“She ditched the brace,” Waldrum said with a laugh. “I’m gonna be hearing that one from the doctors, I’m sure.”

Waldrum praised Hanks’ doggedness, saying it is what sets her apart from other talented players.

“She’s chasing every loose ball and even when she doesn’t have a real shot at getting it, she’s chasing and putting pressure all the way to the 90th minute,” he said “That’s why she’s the player that she is.”

The Irish took their cues from Hanks Sunday, fighting until the final whistle – which sounded infinitely more pleasant to fans than the car alarm had earlier.

Now Notre Dame prepares to take on Minnesota and asks the question, will the dream season continue?

There might be an even better question. How will the Irish find a new way to win this one?

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

Contact Fran Tolan at ftolan@nd.edu.