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Notre Dame to begin uphill battle

Megan Golden | Friday, September 30, 2011

With the most losses of any Irish team since 2007, Notre Dame looks to get back in the win column as it hosts unranked Connecticut and Providence over the weekend.

The Irish (4-5-2, 1-2-1 Big East) will open the weekend on national television against Big East rival Connecticut (4-4-2, 1-1-2 Big East). The Huskies execute the same 4-3-3 system as the Irish.

Connecticut enters the matchup 0-1-2 in its last three games, all of which were settled in overtime. Irish coach Randy Waldrum said he views the contest as a perfect opportunity for the Irish to bounce back from their recent heartbreaking finishes on the road.

“Based on what I’ve seen, the strength of their team is they’re good at keeping the ball and passing. It’s always a good rivalry because us and UConn are historically the best two teams in the Big East,” Waldrum said. “Every year we play them. It’s down to who makes the last mistake, and I think that’s how it’s going to be. They’re kind of having a year similar to us, so it’s a big game for both of us.”

Like Connecticut, the Irish have struggled to close out tight games, with four of their five losses coming in games decided by one goal.

Waldrum said the Irish must change their mentality in order to eliminate a big play by the opposition in the final minutes.

“I think you can work on [closing out games] in training,” he said. “You can talk about it and keep them focused. It’s a work-in-progress, and it’s something you have to keep in front of them and keep talking about it and get that phase of them turned around.”

Irish senior forward and captain Melissa Henderson said she is confident the team has learned from its mistakes and is anxious to get back on the field.

“What’s in the past is in the past. We have had problems closing out games, but I think we’ve learned from it, especially the end of this weekend,” she said. “We’re building off of it, and I really think we’re going to execute it and make things a lot better than they were. I think we just need to get on the same page — just get focused and make sure we are really on exactly the same page.”

Notre Dame will take the field in a Sunday matinee against the Friars (4-4-4, 2-2 Big East), a matchup that always proves to be a challenge for the Irish. Providence runs a system that the Irish are not very familiar with, Waldrum said.

“Providence is an up-and-coming program, and [its] coach, Jim McGirr, has come in and really started to turn the program around,” he said. “It’s always a tough game to play because of the style. They are not nearly as [focused on possession] as Connecticut, but they have to fight a little and be more disruptive. For as good of a team that we were last year, they gave us a really tough time.”

Friars’ senior goalkeeper Caitlin Walker will challenge the Irish offense, as she has only allowed 10 goals in 12 games for the Friars this season.

Waldrum said the key to a victory will be scoring early and often against a strong Providence defense.

“I think we have got to be more efficient in scoring goals. We are not scoring enough goals. If we can do that, it helps the other end,” he said. “We are averaging a goal against us. It takes a lot of pressure off the team defense if we can get back to attacking. We just have to attack, attack and continue to attack, and that’s going to be the mantra for this weekend.”

Notre Dame’s five losses this season mark just the second time the team has recorded five losses in a season since 2002. The Irish lost their fifth game in 2007 against Florida State in the NCAA semifinals.

Despite the rocky start to the season, Waldrum said plenty of time remains for the defending national champions to turn their fortunes around.

“I told them that there are probably a lot of people who have written us off already, but there are still enough games left that if we can turn it around and get it right, we would be an incredible story,” he said. “If we get into the Big East tournament and NCAAs, we have enough talent to make a deep run and make an amazing story. Nobody will care that we lost five games if we make it to the College Cup.”

The Irish will host Connecticut on Friday at 7:30 p.m. before returning to the pitch against Providence on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.

Contact Megan Golden at mgolde01@saintsmarys.edu