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Finally, a Notre Dame title

Chris Masoud | Monday, December 6, 2010

CARY, N.C. — Light up the No. 1 on Grace Hall — a championship at last.

And Notre Dame won its first national title since 2006 pretty handily, too. If Stanford goalkeeper Emily Oliver hadn’t learned to levitate before the contest, the margin of victory would have been closer to two or three and a blowout by NCAA tournament standards.

Leading up to the match, Cardinal forward Christen Press, the nation’s leading goal scorer, said it would have been nice for her team to have played the Tar Heels, not the Irish, for the title in their home state of North Carolina — a matchup between this year’s number one and last year’s. A matchup between a program that has never won a national title and a program that has won 21. The matchup that everyone wanted.

After shutting down Press and the Cardinal offense for 90 minutes, junior defender Jessica Schuveiller lent her thoughts on the matter.

“It would have been nice to play the powerhouse North Carolina in the final, but we already beat them,” she said. “But I guess a championship is a championship, right?”

Yes, and after embarrassing the Tarheels, 4-1 on their home pitch in the round of 16 two weeks ago, Notre Dame spoiled that plan before it even had a chance. But don’t mistake Schuveiller’s confidence for cockiness, or even a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude. Notre Dame truly believed it was the best team in the country before it even took the pitch.

Following his defender’s comment, Irish coach Randy Waldrum added, “I had nothing do with that.”

Wink, wink.

Good teams take on the personality of their coach, and Notre Dame is no exception. Waldrum has instilled a confidence into his players that doesn’t go away, even when the dust has settled and the Irish find themselves as national champions.

So after the committee handed down a No. 4-seed following a quarterfinal loss in the first-round of the Big East Championships, Notre Dame was unfairly cast into a Cinderella role with only two losses to its name. Waldrum simply reminded his players the slipper didn’t fit.

This is not an underdog story. This is not a glorious return to greatness, or even a story of trials and tribulations. Rather, it’s a story of a championship team living up to its own expectations. It’s a story of a program that doesn’t take a year off.

So I won’t remember this championship as the product of endless hours of training or preseason workouts. That’s a requirement at this level and can only take you to the door of success.

And I won’t credit this team for gelling over the course of a season, for playing with a sense of unity and communicating with looks rather than words. Waldrum handpicked this group of players based on their compatibility, including a core of juniors in Melissa Henderson, Courtney Barg and Schuveiller, that had been playing together in the suburbs of Dallas since grade school.

Finally, I won’t harp on the obvious and lavish praise on a team featuring two All-Americans and raw talent at every position. Skill and ability were never a question.

I will remember Courtney Barg coming back from a potentially-season ending injury to lift her team down the stretch.

I will remember Waldrum’s bold decision to move senior Lauren Fowlkes up to the midfield and drop junior Molly Campbell to the back, an experiment that could have backfired but may have been the tactical difference. Implementing that change in the opening round of the tournament says enough about Waldrum’s confidence in his players and their trust in him.

Most of all, I will remember an uncanny resiliency that brought this team from the brink of elimination to a championship. A season that could have been defined by one loss was rewarded by a win on the biggest stage.

Thank you for bringing back the glory to Notre Dame.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Chris Masoud at cmasoud@nd.edu