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ND Women’s Soccer: Irish win 1-0 to advance to final

Fran Tolan | Friday, December 5, 2008

Cary, N.C. – Heading into this weekend’s College Cup in Cary, N.C., the biggest story for Notre Dame was the team’s seniors chasing their first national championship after several near-misses.

The seniors can thank two freshmen for keeping the Irish title hopes alive.

In the fifteenth minute of play in the team’s national semifinal game against Stanford, Notre Dame freshman Melissa Henderson found fellow rookie Courtney Barg for the game’s only goal. Notre Dame secured a 1-0 win and will face North Carolina in the national championship game Sunday at 2 p.m.

“They’ve been great all year,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said of the pair of freshmen. “… They’ve both been fantastic and I think as the year’s gone on, they’ve gotten better and better for us. We brought them in here knowing that they were gonna fill some good shoes for us over the next four years and they’ve certainly not let us down.”

Henderson gained possession on the right side of the penalty box and maneuvered between several Stanford defenders before finding Barg in the middle. Barg blasted a right-footed shot past Stanford goalie Kira Maker into the back of the net to give Notre Dame the lead.

Henderson and Barg connected on goals for years as both played for the club team Sting Dallas before committing to Notre Dame. Still, Barg was almost speechless after the game when she was asked about her emotions as the ball crossed the goal line.

“Excited, [I was] really excited. Surprised. I’m not gonna lie, a little surprised,” she said. “I was just in the right place in the right time and Melissa had a very good cross and I just happened to be on the other end.”

Following the goal, the Irish controlled the run of play during the first period. But Stanford came out firing after halftime. The Cardinal outshot Notre Dame 9-5 in the second half and held the ball on Notre Dame’s side of the field as the clock recorded the final minutes of the contest.

“That was our basic game plan … to keep possession for a little longer overall as a team, and I thought we did that very well,” Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. “And we executed other things and it’s unfortunate we didn’t break the ice.”

But even though Stanford had several solid scoring chances in the second half, the Irish defense and goalie Kelsey Lysander held the Cardinal scoreless. Lysander made a season-high seven saves in the victory and Waldrum praised his defense after the game.

“They’ve been great all year. I think it’s something that, we’ve been so good offensively that people have overlooked our back line,” Waldrum said.

The Cardinal thought they outplayed the Irish in the game’s final minutes.

“In the second half I thought we came out very strong, and we deserved more than the 1-0 loss,” Ratcliffe said.

But Waldrum pointed out that Notre Dame had several good scoring chances during the first half and could have built a bigger lead. Just minutes before the Irish goal, Henderson shot a bullet toward the Cardinal goal but Maker stopped the attempt.

“Soccer’s a little bit of a funny game and to think with a different bounce here and there, who knows, we may be up two in the first half,” Waldrum said. “Melissa had a great chance early before we scored the goal … If you score one of those and you’re up two, who knows what the rest of the game looks like. That’s the nature of our sport.”

Notre Dame will spend Saturday resting and preparing to take on North Carolina, who the Irish beat 1-0 earlier in the season. The Tar Heels defeated UCLA Friday to advance to the final.

“We’re extremely excited to be playing for the championship on Sunday,” Waldrum said. “You all knew we had four very good teams here and certainly Stanford was no exception … I’m just proud of our girls and the effort and it was a great game. I hope the fans enjoyed it.”

Note:u At halftime of the North Carolina-UCLA game, Irish forward Kerri Hanks was honored with the Lowe’s Senior Class Award, which is awarded to the outstanding NCAA Division I senior student-athlete in nine sports. Voting is based on excellence in the classroom, character and community, as well as competition on the playing field.