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ND Women’s Soccer: Irish head to Chicago for weekend

Allan Joseph | Friday, September 17, 2010

After returning from a trip to sunny Southern California last weekend, No. 7/11 Notre Dame will travel to Chicago this weekend for a two-game swing that figures to be much less welcoming, as the Irish (5-1-0) will face two of their toughest road tests of the season. Notre Dame will face DePaul on Friday before clashing with Northwestern on Sunday to round out the trip.

The battle with the Blue Demons (4-2-2) will serve as the conference opener for both teams, opening a new phase of the schedule, one that is much more critical to Notre Dame’s postseason hopes.

“We’re ready to get started in conference play,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “That’s always a big thing for us, and we’ve had a good history of doing so well.”

Notre Dame will not only have to contend with a surging DePaul team, but also with a facility that will not be up to the standards of Alumni Stadium. Wish Field doubles as the outfield of the DePaul softball field and is composed of AstroTurf instead of grass, posing an additional challenge.

“DePaul’s a really tough place to play. We always seem to struggle to play well there,” Waldrum said. “And they’re a team that can beat you if you’re not ready to play.”

In addition, Waldrum and his staff must fight off complacency after the Irish’s return from Southern California.

“I just want to make sure we don’t come back from our California trip and think ‘we’re just playing DePaul’,” Waldrum said.

After the conference opener, Sunday’s tilt with Northwestern (3-2-2) will be the last nonconference game in which the Irish will compete before the NCAA Tournament in November. This weekend will also mark the first time an Irish team coached by Waldrum will visit Evanston in the regular season.

Lakeside Field could also pose its problems, as it is situated directly on Lake Michigan. The forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of rain, which could pose major challenges to the Notre Dame game plan.

Not only is the facility going to pose a challenge, but the Wildcats themselves will be no pushovers. Earlier this year, Northwestern defeated UCLA (4-1), who is the only team to defeat the Irish this season.

“It looked statistically like Northwestern had the better run of the play [in that game],” Waldrum said. “They’re obviously fully capable. The coach there does a really good job, and I think she’ll have a team that’s really well-organized.”

Despite the challenges, the Irish hope to get off to a strong start in Big East play and avoid stumbling in winnable games early in the season.

“They’re two games you need to take care of,” Waldrum said. “They’re two games that can clearly present a stumbling block if you’re not ready.”

The Irish open Big East play in Chicago Friday at 5 p.m. against DePaul and will follow that against Northwestern Sunday at 5:30 p.m. in Evanston.