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Road-tested ND faces Ohio St. in semifinals

Mike Gotimer | Thursday, December 2, 2010

No. 7 Notre Dame will head to its fifth consecutive College Cup this weekend in Cary, N.C., where it will face No. 17 Ohio State in the national semifinal.

Although the Irish (19-2-2) were highly ranked and had a reputation as one of college soccer’s elite programs, a 2-0 loss to Connecticut in the quarterfinals of the Big East championships resulted in a drop to a fourth seed in the NCAA Tournament. The lower seed gave the Irish a daunting road to the College Cup in which they played three ranked teams and traveled nearly 4,000 miles.

“I think when the bids came out, all the girls didn’t publicly come out and say anything and we didn’t either, and I think we all felt like we got a little bit of a shaft on that,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “I think we were expecting a two seed, and to get a four [seed], we were all disappointed in that. So I think they had a little bit of a point to prove, so that’s probably served as a little motivation.”

Since that loss, the Irish have dominated their opponents on both ends of the field, outscoring opponents 13-1 thus far in the tournament. Waldrum said he believes this team has played as well as any other team he has coached during his tenure at Notre Dame.

“I think this team is really well prepared, and I think it’s got all the ingredients,” Waldrum said. “It could win it. You know now we [have to] still go out and perform on the day, but I think it’s as good right now as any team that we’ve had coming through at this point in the year.”

While Notre Dame has been to the College Cup 12 times in its history, Ohio State (17-4-2) is making its first appearance on college soccer’s biggest stage. Although the Irish have a clear advantage in experience, Waldrum isn’t ready to say this team will have an easy road to Sunday night’s final.

“I think it is [Ohio State’s] first time there, and that can be a dangerous thing,” Waldrum said. “You know, it can be one of those Cinderella runs like USC did a few years ago — the first time they were in they won the whole thing — and so I think Ohio State certainly has a good enough team to do that.”

The Buckeyes will present challenges for the Irish on both sides of the ball, but their defense has been especially sound, allowing just 0.61 goals per game.

“They don’t give up many goals. They look to be a team that’s really organized, so I think it’s [going to] be a great game,” Waldrum said. “I think it should be a really good matchup, and you know when you get to the final four teams, you’re playing somebody good.”

Should the Irish get past Ohio State on Friday, they will face the winner of the other semifinal contest between No.1 Stanford and No. 18 Boston College. Like the 2008 Notre Dame squad, which entered the College Cup unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the country, the Cardinal (22-0-2) enter this year’s College Cup looking to wrap up an undefeated season with a national championship. Waldrum said he believes Stanford will face some pressure to win a storybook national title, but he doesn’t think it will derail them.

“Well there’s some pressure with it — I can tell you that from us doing it,” Waldrum said. “You know, every game that you get deeper, whether you consciously think about it or subconsciously think about it, you go, ‘Well there’s only now two games left and if we win it we go undefeated, now there’s only one more game.’ I don’t think the pressure of them carrying that undefeated season is [going to] burden them enough that it’s [going to] cause them to collapse or anything.”

Like Ohio State, Boston College (17-6-1) is also making its first trip to the College Cup. The Eagles were one of the nation’s hottest teams at the beginning of the season, but cooled off towards the end before stepping their game up again in the tournament.

“I think Boston College has had an exceptional year,” Waldrum said. “They started out really hot — they beat [North] Carolina early in the year, and they tied Stanford early in the year … they seemed like they’ve turned it back around again late in the year.”

Notre Dame will begin the final stage of its chase for the program’s third national title Friday against Ohio State at 4 p.m. at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. The winner of that game will square off with the winner of the Stanford vs. Boston College match at noon Sunday for the national title. The semifinal games will be broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPNU, while Sunday’s match will air on ESPN2.