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Seven seniors seek one title

Douglas Farmer | Thursday, December 3, 2009

Four College Cups. Two national runner-up finishes. Four Big East divisional titles. Three Big East Tournament titles. Ninety-one wins against only 10 losses.

It is safe to say that Micaela Alvarez, Amanda Clark, Haley Ford, Kelsey Lysander, Courtney Rosen, Rachel VanderGenugten and Michele Weissenhofer, the seven seniors in this year’s senior class, have accomplished a lot in the past four years. They would say they have not accomplished enough.

“I came in wanting to win a National Championship and play competitively for a successful team,” forward and captain Weissenhofer said. “We have definitely surpassed my expectations for a successful team, and we may have many accomplishments including four Final Fours, but I still haven’t received a national championship yet.”

The Irish have indeed gone oh-for-three in the College Cup, and each loss in the final weekend of the season stung more than the previous one.

In their freshman year, 2006, Notre Dame lost to, of all teams, North Carolina 2-1. Two years later the same thing happened, a 2-1 loss to the Tar Heels after North Carolina scored a goal with only two minutes left in the game.

“I would say our approach against North Carolina freshman year was that we had them on this pedestal that they were this unbelievable opponent and rival that we couldn’t beat,” defender VanderGenugten said of their first experience in the finals.

In between the two losses to the Tar Heels, Florida State beat the Irish in the College Cup semifinals in 2007.

“That year we wanted to win so badly after losing to North Carolina the year before,” forward and captain Rosen said. “We just felt we had worked so hard the whole season to get there, and then to have it pulled short in the semis was even harder than losing in the championship.”

Even if all three previous Cup appearances ended in losses, the pure feat of reaching four Cups consecutively surpasses any expectations anyone had for the team’s seven seniors Irish coach Randy Waldrum said.

“It is such a difficult thing to get to a College Cup, yet alone four of them,” he said. “I don’t think I could honestly sit here and tell you that I would have expected this group to get to four. You hope that you have a group that could win a national championship along the way, but I think they have certainly exceeded any expectations that you realistically had when you started out.”

In getting to the four Cups, and falling short in the first three, the seven seniors went through experiences that few others can fathom.

“Especially after last year’s loss, we can think of so many times we just sat on our futons back in the dorm and cried because we lost,” VanderGenugten said. “It was such a bonding experience to go through something like that.”

The three dramatic losses have not been the only thing to bring the seven closer.

“We have relationships that I can’t even describe, to be able to play on the field as a competitor, be a teammate, and also be a roommate. There are so many facets of our relationship that I believe we have developed through soccer that go into various areas of our lives,” defender Clark said. “We have learned so much through both the successes and even more through the defeats. You learn more after you lose and have a chance to look back at it.”

Learning more through a loss does not mean these Irish are willing to suffer another defeat, not at all. If nothing else, the seven hope their previous heartbreaks will contribute to a triumph this weekend.

“This year we are going in knowing we have beaten [North Carolina] in the past and are fully capable of beating them again,” VanderGenugten said. “I think we are stronger than we were last season.”

Last season’s end is a common motivational theme, as well as lesson, among this group. The team rolled through the regular season last year, reaching the NCAA Championship final undefeated and untied before North Carolina dashed perfection.

“Last year I’d say it came pretty easy,” forward Ford said. “Most of the season, from the very first game to the final, we clicked pretty easily. This year we have had to work a lot harder. We had three losses in our first few games.”

Tears are no longer shed over those three losses, including defeats to the Tar Heels as well as to Stanford, both of which are in the College Cup this weekend.

“It’s kind of an advantage. Last year we never tailed, so we never had to fight back and come from behind,” VanderGenugten said. “This year we’ve done that all season. … We’ve been down late in the half, and we come back and get the win. That’s a huge difference.”

The past four years haven’t only been about fighting back from deficits or defeats though. As made evident by their bounty of wins and trophies, these seniors have had more good times than most college athletes come to know. One of the highlights of their four years was Senior Day on Oct. 25. The highlight of the day came when Waldrum subbed Alvarez onto the field. Alvarez had torn her ACL that week in practice, and doctors had ruled her out of any competition for the rest of the season, so Waldrum’s move was quite surprising.

“[Waldrum] sprung it on me on the sideline as we were sitting there,” she said. “Just to put on the jersey one more time and to be able to step out there was really an unbelievable experience. It was emotional, but it was something I’m always going to cherish having that memory.”

The kind gesture did not only reward Alvarez, but her teammates, friends rather, got some great blackmail out of the moment.

“Some quality dance moves were caught on tape,” said Rosen, unable to control her laughter.

In the long run, the seven seniors will remember moments like Alvarez’s moment, or VanderGenugten’s first two career goals in the first two rounds of these playoffs, more vividly than any College Cup heartbreaks, but in the short term, they all have one common thought.

“Haley said the other day and it sums it up pretty well. We are tired of someone else ending our season, and are tired of ending the season crying,” Alvarez said. “Let’s celebrate for once.”

Goaltender Lysander, who has stepped strongly into a leadership role this season as junior Nikki Weiss has shined in the goal, summed up the senior class’ thoughts concisely.

“We have a job to do,” she said. “Let’s get it done.”

In the end though, the seniors’ long list of accomplishments to date cannot be overlooked, no matter how badly they want to add two wins to the list this weekend.

“We have a lot to celebrate and we have had a great four-year run,” Rosen said. “But we want to end it with winning the final big kahuna.”