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ND faces tough start on road

Andrew Gastelum | Friday, August 26, 2011

Beginning one of college soccer’s toughest road schedules, No. 1 Notre Dame will head to the Carolina Classic at Chapel Hill to take on No. 3 North Carolina with the sting of defeat still fresh in the Tar Heels’ minds.

 

Last year, the Irish (1-0-0) destroyed perennial power North Carolina’s (1-0-0) hopes of adding a NCAA-leading twenty-first national championship trophy to its collection with a 4-1 statement win — the Tarheels’ worst loss in 30 seasons — in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

 

Irish coach Randy Waldrum said last season’s victory at Chapel Hill still drives the Tar Heels.

“There is no doubt that [the Tarheels] are thinking about revenge,” Waldrum said. “There is so much pride and tradition in that program that you just can’t help but expect them to have the game marked on their calendar from the moment we beat them.”

The trip to Carolina kicks off a stretch of demanding road challenges, which includes matchups against No. 21 Duke, No. 2 Stanford and No. 16 Santa Clara, as Notre Dame attempts to defend its national championship against the toughest of competition.

“We play these big games early on to find out how good we really are,” Waldrum said. “It would be easy to load the schedule with unranked teams and go into league play undefeated, but that wouldn’t be a true measure of where we are at and how we can improve.”

The Irish are coming off an impressive set of exhibitions during which they scored 12 goals in two games, followed by a dominant 2-0 win over Wisconsin Aug. 19 to open the regular season. Senior All-American forward and co-captain Melissa Henderson — who collected a goal and an assist in last year’s meeting with North Carolina — recorded a goal and an assist against the Badgers (0-1-0), who were outshot 17-8.

Waldrum believes his team can still improve in a few crucial areas as it pursues its full potential.

“We let some opportunities slip away in the final third and had some finishing issues [against Wisconsin],” Waldrum said. “We also have got to continue to minimize chances against us because there was a stretch where we relaxed a little too much. We can’t afford to do this against the North Carolinas and Stanfords.”

North Carolina, the preseason favorite to win the ACC, boasts an experienced squad that returns 10 players from last year’s team, including preseason All-American sophomore Crystal Dunn. Dunn scored the lone goal against the Irish last season and has been featured everywhere on the field from central defender to striker.

“She is definitely one of those that you keep an eye on because she is just such a fantastic player,” Waldrum said. “But we still plan on keeping our game mentality and we will be ready. It’ll be a tight one, but we are confident in what we are capable of doing.”

Notre Dame takes on North Carolina tonight at 7 p.m. and Duke Sunday at 1 p.m. to close out the Carolina Classic.