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ND Women’s Soccer: Tourney time

Deirdre Krasula | Friday, November 14, 2008

Even with a perfect record, the No. 1 Irish haven’t forgotten the little things, or at least to pay attention to them. And that’s just what they’ll be focused on when they open NCAA Tournament play at home against Toledo at 7:30 p.m.

Experience has taught Irish coach Randy Waldrum that tournament play is nothing like the regular season – and the Irish coaching staff has been preparing for that as much as possible.

“We’ve been watching video this week and got some scouting reports from around the country of Toledo, and really we’ve just been trying to gather as much information about them as we can,” Waldrum said. “We’ve found that they play a pretty similar system , in fact they play the same system that we play, so I think that we’re very well prepared to play against that and I think that the kids are excited. They’re just ready to get started. It’s something they’ve worked for the whole season, and to get to this point, they’re just ready to get started.”

But even with the knowledge of their 4-4-2 system, the Rockets still present some problems for the Irish. Junior striker Molly Cornwell is at the heart of Toledo’s attacking offense with seven goals in 21 starts. Fellow forward Ali Leak scored the game-winning goal as the Rockets (16-4-1) took down Eastern Michigan 1-0 in the finals of the MAC Championships.

And high scores in tournament play aren’t common – Notre Dame battled in overtime in the rain and snow to defeat the Connecticut 1-0 for the Big East title. Waldrum is well aware that set plays and dead-ball opportunities could make or break a team’s tournament time.

“We’re not going to be changing our system and we’re not going to change drastically the things that we’ve done to get us to this point,” Waldrum said. “But I think the things that we really tried to focus on this week, and hopefully if we continue to win, we’ll continue on doing it this way, is really trying to get them to focus on the little details, because I think when you get to games like this, the difference is going to be free kicks and set pieces, little dead-ball situations and just paying attention to the things that sometimes its easy to take for granted.”

And if anyone is well-versed in tournament play, it’s Waldrum and the Irish. When Notre Dame won the championship in 2004, it posted only 12 goals in six games, four of which were scored of dead-ball situations. Two of those goals ended up being game winners that paved the road to a penalty kick win over UCLA in the championship.

“That detail, almost a third of your goals are scored on free kicks and set pieces, that you’ve got to pay a lot of attention to, you can’t just haphazardly take them,” Waldrum said. “Who knows? We may never had made it to the final four [in 2004] if we hadn’t paid attention to those details. So that’s what we really try to focus on when we get into the tournament.”

And even though Notre Dame boasts the No. 1 seed and home field advantage, it’s hard not to wonder if the Irish wouldn’t have defeated Connecticut in regulation time had they had a healthy roster – but Waldrum said leading goal scorer Kerri Hanks will be suiting up tonight. And with Hanks’ seniority, tournament knowledge and healthy knee, the Irish are likely to look better than ever, even if rain continues to storm South Bend.

And though the Irish players are focused on tonight’s game, the coaching staff isn’t blind to the match up of Michigan State and No. 16 Wisconsin-Milwaukee that takes place before Notre Dame’s game. They’ve watched tape, scouted and prepared to face either team come Sunday.