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Irish to host championships

Joseph Monardo | Tuesday, May 3, 2011

As the No. 5 Irish prepare to host the Women’s National Collegiate Club Championship, the Midwest division champions are hopeful they can play their way into the title game.

Notre Dame (16-4) has experienced sustained success throughout the season, recording eight straight victories at one point and never suffering consecutive losses.

Teamwork has helped the Irish consistently perform well, senior goalie Eileen Flanagan said.

“We’re definitely a team-oriented team,” Flanagan said. “Some teams have one strong player who they center their entire strategy around and that’s how they try and win games, where one player tries to be the all-star. Six people who are working together will always beat a team where one person is trying to beat all of us.”

Notre Dame’s teamwork is especially important on defense, where the Irish have allowed an average of 6.2 goals per game.

“Our defense is what makes us successful,” senior 2-meter Ali Durkin said. “We play a really efficient team defense, and when our defense is on, we are pretty much unstoppable.”

The Irish hope their team play, coupled with the momentum gained from their 15-3 victory over Miami of Ohio in the April 17 regional championship game, will propel them deep into the national tournament.

If they are to make a title run, the Irish will have to maintain their focus throughout the weekend, as the tournament’s 16-team field consists of division winners from all over the country. The seeding is based on the 2010 championship results by division.

“One of the biggest things for us is going to be making sure that, mentally, we’re prepared, we’re excited, that we’re ready to go as soon as the game starts,” senior driver Liz Casazza said. “We’ve been working hard all season and I think that that’s really going to show.”

The Irish will face No. 12 Texas for the first time in program history in their first round match up.

“We’ve never played Texas before, so we have no idea how good they are or what to expect,” Flanagan said. “All we know is that we’re focused on beating them right now. We treat every team that we play like they are the best team in the entire country.”

No. 1 Cal Poly headlines the field after capturing the last three national titles, but the Irish are confident they are prepared for the level of competition they will face in the tournament.

“Every year we take a Spring Break trip out to California, and that’s because the best teams are from California, so we’ve seen this level of competition before,” Flanagan said. “That being said, we haven’t seen them since March, and all sides have gotten better, so this should be a really good test of our abilities and how much we’ve improved over the season.”

Still, Notre Dame will have to get past Texas before shifting its focus to the other teams in the field.

“We’re kind of just trying to take it one game at a time, so right now we’re thinking about our first game on Friday against Texas,” Durkin said. “We’re trying to not really think beyond that, because if we can’t get past Texas, then we won’t get very far at all.”

For Flanagan, Durkin, Casazza and fellow senior Lizzy Gormley, the privilege of hosting the national tournament is a special finale to their water polo careers. The Irish hope their position as the home team will provide them with a significant advantage.

“There is definitely the comfort of playing in your home pool with all the supporters, friends and family there cheering you on,” Flanagan said. “At the same time, there’s pressure to do well — you have to defend your home territory. We’re definitely excited about this National.”

Games begin Friday at 9 a.m. in the Rolfs Aquatic Center, with the title game scheduled for 12:45 p.m. Sunday.