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ND Women’s Soccer Commentary: Despite loss, Irish are closing the gap on North Carolina

Douglas Farmer | Monday, December 7, 2009

In some ways, it now seems as if it was always inevitable.

North Carolina has nine more College Cup titles than Notre Dame has appearances. Was it really realistic to think the Irish could beat the Tar Heels on the biggest stage in women’s college soccer?

North Carolina senior Casey Noguiera scored two goals to beat Notre Dame in last year’s Final, and in Friday’s semifinal, the Hermann Award candidate netted the only goal of the game.

Was it realistic to think the Irish defense could keep Noguiera and the high-powered Tar Heel offense quiet for 90 minutes?

Friday night, as was obvious to anyone who watched the game, North Carolina was the superior team on the field.

“They were the better team,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “There is no question about it.”

Maybe this weekend it was unrealistic. But certainly in the future, beating North Carolina in the College Cup will be more realistic as the gap between the perennial powerhouse Tar Heels and the rest of college soccer — especially the Fighting Irish — has closed to a nearly negligible margin.

Don’t get me wrong — the leveling of the playing field is still a work in process. North Carolina has won three College Cups in the past four years, but the combined score in those three title games was 5-2, with Notre Dame falling by a 2-1 deficit twice in that span. Compared to the fact that the Tar Heels won their first 12 National Championships in a span of 13 years by a combined score of 45-3, the last four years show a true change in the times.

“[North Carolina] certainly is the standard [all women’s college soccer programs are measured by], and has been for 25 or 30 years,” Waldrum said. “They are the standard everybody is trying to reach.”

Waldrum continued to distinguish between two Tar Heel eras – two eras in the sport as a whole.

“I think you’ve got to look at Carolina in the first 25 years and what they had done, and look at Carolina in the last five or six years,” he said. “You have a lot of teams that can boast a lot of success against them in the last few years.”

And that is a true statement. Notre Dame may be able to boast of the most success against them in the latter half of this decade.

In 2007, Notre Dame traveled to Chapel Hill in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, and jumped out to a 2-0 first half lead en route to a 3-2 victory.

That makes four NCAA Tournament matches between the two teams in the last four years, all decided by one goal. In any sport, a one-score margin is nothing to be very sure of, and this is especially true in soccer. If Irish junior Rose Augustin’s arcing shot which glanced off the crossbar had been two inches shorter, it would have slipped in. In all of reality, if only one Irish forward had run under the shot, the other could likely have knocked in the slow bouncing rebound.

A few minutes later in the second half Irish senior Michele Weissenhofer had a chance at a goal, but her shot curved wide right.

If either one of those chances hits net, this column could be celebrating a Notre Dame title. The fact that the game was that close is still something to be noted.

North Carolina no longer owns women’s soccer. Are the Tar Heels still the favorite? Twenty College Cup titles earn them that respect.

“They are always going to be good,” Waldrum said. “They will always compete for national championships, but I think there a lot of really good programs in the country now.”

And with players like Lauren Fowlkes, Rose Augustin, Jessica Schuveiller and Melissa Henderson, Notre Dame is one of them, possibly poised for its own title in the next season or two.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
Contact Douglas Farmer at dfarmer1@nd.edu