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ND Women’s Soccer: Defense looks to step up for Irish

Kelsey Manning | Thursday, September 8, 2011

In the midst of the Irish dismantling Tulsa and Indiana over the weekend and senior captain Melissa Henderson earning Big East Player of the Week honors, the Notre Dame defense was shielded from the limelight. But with a game-opening goal allowed in each matchup, a critical injury and continuing efforts to incorporate his younger players, Irish coach Randy Waldrum’s focus on the unit has only intensified.

After sweeping the competition at the Notre Dame adidas Invitational, the Irish squad received both offensive and defensive Most Valuable Player awards, the latter going to senior captain Jess Schuveiller, a player Waldrum cites as his rock in the backfield.

“Jess has been essential and a great leader for the defense,” he said. “But, I think we need to stop relying on her so much, and the other two on the field need to step up as well.”

Though the defense has been fairly successful so far, only allowing nine goals in five regular season games, Waldrum said there is room for improvement.

“This weekend we allowed two soft goals,” Waldrum said. “On Friday against Tulsa, it was right from kickoff. Now obviously we were able to beat Tulsa handily, but we just can’t make mistakes like that against tougher teams.

“When you’re playing a non-conference schedule as tough as ours, with North Carolina, Duke, Stanford, Santa Clara, you’re going to be exposed and you can’t make those kind of mistakes.”

Notre Dame’s 3-1 loss against Duke highlighted the lacking areas of the Irish defense. The Blue Devils held a 15-11 edge in shots and a startling 9-2 advantage in shots on goal. The Irish were able to compensate for those numbers Friday, crushing Tulsa in both categories, 39-4 and 16-2, respectively.

However, with upcoming games against powerhouses Santa Clara and Stanford, all the pieces will need to be in place to maintain those kinds of numbers.

Waldrum said that although he was pleased overall with the play of his individual defenders, the defense as a unit still lacked cohesion, possibly because of an inconsistent lineup.

“[Sophomore] Kecia [Morway] couldn’t play because she had a concussion on Friday so [freshman] Taylor [Schneider] had to step in,” Waldrum said. “She stepped in and played great, but the fact that we haven’t had the same three players in the same spots for three out of our five games so far might be having an effect on the defense playing together and being in sync.”

In addition to Schneider, Waldrum said freshman Sammy Scofield has had a definite impact on Notre Dame’s defense this year. Adding to a defensive staff that includes seniors Schuveiller and Molly Campbell, junior Jazmin Hall and Morway, Waldrum said he has no doubts about the talent of his backfield. His concern remains taking that individual talent and building a unified defense.

“As far as individual players, they’re doing great, but I’m not sure we’ve come together cohesively yet,” he said.

Waldrum said he has full confidence in the ability and potential of his defensive squad and expects them to build the type of cohesion that past Irish defenses have experienced. The first step will be the two tests that lie ahead this weekend in California. Waldrum believes his defense is well on its way.

“We’re usually farther along by now,” he said. “But I believe that this defensive squad will be fantastic by the end of the season.”