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ND Women’s Soccer: Sunshine stars

Andrew Gastelum | Wednesday, September 21, 2011

No. 20 Notre Dame will hit the road for the fifth time in six outings tonight against South Florida, with its first opportunity to play in front of a national television audience.

The Irish (4-4-1, 1-1 Big East) face a tough challenge from a rising South Florida team that plans to showcase its brand new stadium to the nation. The Big East matchup will be shown nationally on Fox Soccer Channel, something that Irish coach Randy Waldrum hopes can quell whispers of a sub-par season for the Irish.

“Hopefully, [the viewers] will see that we have a really good team out there,” Waldrum said. “Some people who don’t follow us as closely may look at our results and think ‘maybe they are having a down year’ but now they’ll actually get a chance to see us on television.”

The Irish are currently on a grueling road-game jaunt that has taken them from Palo Alto, Calif. to Cincinnati to Tampa, Fla. with only one home game in between — a 1-0 loss to Louisville in the Big East opener. The road trip ends this weekend with a visit to No. 14 Marquette, but Waldrum views this extensive stretch of the schedule as something that will strengthen his team as the season progresses.

“We’ve put our kids in a tough position being on the road a lot, but I think that we will be better off from it in the long run” he said. “This is [the players’] first trip to USF because of the Big East rotation so it’ll be interesting.”

The Bulls (4-3-2, 0-1-1 Big East) are coming off a 2-2 overtime tie at Pittsburgh where they came back twice from one-goal deficits. Junior midfielder Taylor Peterson leads the Bulls’ attack with four goals and three assists along with sophomore forward Demi Stokes. Stokes led South Florida’s comeback Sunday with a goal and an assist and is a fixture on the British national team.

“[South Florida] has really grown over the past few years, especially with some of their foreign recruits who bring their experience from playing overseas to the team,” Waldrum said. “It will be a tough game with a tough environment to play in what is clearly their biggest game of the year. We expect a great challenge from them at home.”

The Irish bring experienced attackers with them as well, headed by All-American senior forward Melissa Henderson. Henderson, a Hermann trophy favorite, has tallied 10 goals and three assists in nine games this year, including her second hat trick of the year in Sunday’s 4-1 victory over Cincinnati.

“Mel is capable of [scoring a hat trick] every game,” Waldrum said. “She has the ability to do it every week it’s just a matter of getting her determined to do it. If she can do it [against South Florida] we will be in good shape.”

Sophomore midfielder Mandy Laddish has served as a nice complement to Henderson’s finishing ability, tallying a Big East-leading five assists in nine games.

South Florida hosts No. 20 Notre Dame tonight at 7 p.m. in a Big East match televised nationally on Fox Soccer Channel.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at

agastel1@nd.edu