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Notre Dame to take on Stanford for national championship

Allan Joseph | Saturday, December 4, 2010

CARY, N.C. – In the 2008 College Cup semifinal, Notre Dame defeated Stanford 1-0 on the strength of a goal from then-freshman midfielder Courtney Barg, only to fall to North Carolina in the title game. On Friday, the fourth-seeded Irish returned to Cary and advanced out of the semifinals in nearly identical fashion on a late goal from freshman midfielder Mandy Laddish.

This time around, however, Notre Dame will be looking for a different result — its first national crown since 2004.

“A lot’s changed,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “They’re different, and so are we. Every year is a new year.”

To reach the summit of NCAA women’s soccer, No. 7 Notre Dame (20-2-2) will have to outplay a Stanford team that ended the regular season atop the soccer rankings. The No. 1 Cardinal (23-0-2) are led by senior forward Christen Press, the national leader in goals scored and the Stanford career leader in goals and assists. Press, a California native, was recruited heavily by Waldrum but chose to stay in warmer climates.

“She’s a top-class collegiate player,” Waldrum said. “We wish she would have come to Notre Dame, but I think she’s had a great career that she should be very proud of.”

Senior defender Julie Scheidler said that the back line will focus on playing its game rather than being awed by Press’s offensive firepower.

“Obviously knowing that she’s good, we play her the same as any other offensive line coming at us,” she said. “We just try to play the same no matter who we’re defending.”

On the Irish side of the ball, junior forward Melissa Henderson leads an offense that looks to break through a stalwart Stanford defense playing in front of standout freshman goalkeeper Emily Oliver.

“She’s a super-talented goalkeeper,” Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. “She just has a real presence about her.”

Both coaches have broken with traditional soccer tactics and employ a 4-3-3 formation. Both teams have juniors and seniors with significant postseason experience. Both teams have shut down opponents defensively throughout the NCAA tournament, as each team has only allowed one goal in the tournament.

“Stanford plays pretty much like we do,” Waldrum said. “We’re two very mirror images of each other.”

The similarities extend to the coaching strategy, as both squads look to attack from the opening whistle, leaving the possibility of a wide-open game.

“We have to be aggressive at the start of the game,” Ratcliffe said. “I’m hoping tomorrow that we start fast and strong and we’re assertive.”

“All year, especially the playoffs, we’ve been talking about attacking,” senior forward Rose Augustin said. “I think tomorrow you’re going to see that again.”

Augustin and her fellow seniors will don Irish jerseys for the last time tomorrow, and while they have enjoyed their experiences at the College Cup, they will look to win their class’s first national championship. Though they hope to savor the experience, they have been very clear regarding their purpose in Cary.

“We’re here to win,” Augustin said.

Notre Dame faces Stanford for the national championship at noon Sunday. The game will be televised on ESPN2.