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ND Women’s Soccer: Twice denied

Alex Barker | Monday, December 7, 2009

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — For the second straight year, the Irish were beaten in the College Cup by a late second-half goal off the foot of North Carolina forward Casey Nogueira.

Nogueira’s finish from close range with 7:58 remaining sent the Irish home with a 1-0 defeat in the NCAA Semifinals Friday night at Aggie Soccer Stadium.

“They were the better team tonight, no question about it,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “But it doesn’t take away how proud I am of our girls and their effort.”

Tar Heel midfielder Lucy Bronze made a strong run down the right side, slipping past the Irish defense, and put a low cross into the six-yard box that Nogueira touched in for the game-winner.

The Irish were forced to play much of the game in their own defensive end, managing just eight shots against North Carolina’s 26. The Tar Heels also held a 10-2 advantage in corner kicks.

“I think through the course of the season Notre Dame has matured tremendously,” Tar Heel coach Anson Dorrance said. “The game plan [Notre Dame] had was a good one. They made it very difficult for us to score.”

In the first half, North Carolina wasted no time putting pressure on the Irish defense. The Tar Heels took the ball straight down the field in the first minute and drew a foul just outside the penalty box. Notre Dame dodged an early bullet when Nogueira’s shot sailed over the crossbar.

The Irish bounced back with their best opportunity of the half just a few minutes later when sophomore Melissa Henderson led a counterattack that caught the North Carolina defense out of position. Henderson hit Augustin on a through-ball inside the penalty box, but Augustin’s shot was deflected wide by Tar Heel goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

“They were a good team and they pressed us a lot,” Augustin said. “We tried to settle it down and we almost got through on a few.”

Just before the end of the half, North Carolina had two opportunities to capitalize on loose balls inside the Irish penalty area, but those shot attempts were cleared off the end line by sophomore Molly Campbell.

Early in the second half, the two teams traded a number of offensive opportunities, with the Notre Dame defense standing strong to keep the game scoreless.

Just as the Irish were gaining the momentum, senior defender Haley Ford, who has struggled with injuries for much of the season, went down with a leg injury minutes into the half that forced her to sit out the rest of the game.

But as they have done all season, the Irish continued to fight through adversity.

In the 67th minute, Notre Dame looked to have taken the lead, but Augustin’s volley from the left side of the penalty area bounced off the crossbar and the Tar Heels were able to clear.

From that point on, North Carolina regained control of the match forcing play onto the Irish’s defensive third. Nikki Weiss made several saves down the stretch, finishing with six on the night, before allowing Nogueira’s go-ahead goal.

“We were a little frustrated [in our inability to score], but we’re used to taking lots of shots,” Nogueira said. “But we kept taking them and it paid off eventually.”

The Irish had one last opportunity to get the equalizer in the final seconds, but Henderson’s through-ball intended for senior Michele Weissenhofer was cleared away by a sliding effort from Tar Heel defender Rachel Givan.

North Carolina advanced to the finals Sunday where it knocked off previously unbeaten Stanford to claim a record 20th NCAA Championship, its third in four years.
The seven members of the Irish senior class, led by Weissenhofer and Ford, boast a career record of 91-11-4, including four appearances in the College Cup and two trips to the NCAA Championship final, but again fell just short of claiming a national title.

“It’s been a really great group [of seniors],” Waldrum said. “They have had a lot of ups and downs and helped the rest of the team persevere. It makes the rest of the team cherish and appreciate more the time they have on the field when they see all that this class has had to go through.”

While Friday’s result was another disappointment in a season filled with tough breaks, the Irish made a graceful exit with their heads held high.

“We’re going out proud tonight,” Henderson said. “Our team has overcome so many obstacles and the players have really stepped up and made some great things happen. I’ve never been prouder to be on a team, the way everyone stepped up and played for each other was phenomenal.”