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ND Women’s Soccer: Familiar Feeling

Kelsey Manning | Sunday, October 30, 2011

Senior tri-captain and reigning Big East Offensive Player of the Week Melissa Henderson netted a school-record 24th match-winning goal to lift the Irish to a 1-0 victory over No. 5/9 Marquette on Sunday, sending Notre Dame to the Big East semifinals for the 15th time in 17 years. 

The quarterfinal matchup marked the second time Notre Dame has faced Marquette in just over a month, and in what the Irish hope will be a theme of the post-season, they got it done when it mattered most.

Before Sunday, Notre Dame’s last game against the Golden Eagles ended in a heartbreaking fashion, as the Irish fought back from a two-goal deficit only to lose the ball on the overtime kickoff which led to a Marquette goal just 18 seconds into the extra period. This time around, Henderson scored in the ninth minute of the game, and a stout Irish defense held onto that lead for the remainder of the contest. This contrast demonstrates a complete shift in outlook for the Irish, according to Henderson.

“I think our mindset altogether [has changed],” she said. “We’re going a game at a time. We went through a lot of adversity at the beginning of the season and I really think it came down to the fact that we realized we have to play for each other and we have to bring it together.”

In spite of any questions or concerns that have surrounded this Irish squad in the midst of the losingest season of Henderson’s collegiate career, she said that she and her teammates remain confident, and their goal remains the same.

“I know a lot of the underclassmen have told us that they want to do it for us, for the seniors,” she said. “So I really think that we’re all on the same page now and everybody has the same goal and that’s just to get another national championship.”

Henderson said defense is the key to that goal, and the Irish defense has certainly been stepping up recently, posting shutouts in five of their last eight outings. Though a common theme of the early season was difficulty integrating newer players in with the upperclassman defenders, Henderson said the backfield has come together as a unit, apparently primed to peak at just the right time. 

“The defense has been doing amazing with all the shutouts,” Henderson said. “I can’t say enough [about my teammates.] Just being able to watch them grow together and just being able to communicate in a different way and keeping these shutouts coming has been amazing.

“You win championships with the defense and I have so much respect for everything they’ve been doing, and not even only the defense that’s been playing in games but also the defense that play in practice. We’ll be scrimmaging and everyone has a part of everything, whether you’re playing in games on the field or not. They push us to get better and vice versa, so it’s been really good.”

The senior sloughed off any talk about record breaking, giving all the credit to her teammates. As the Irish move deeper into the post-season, Henderson made it clear the focus will be on one thing: winning.

“I don’t really know that much about [the record] to be honest … but I am absolutely honored and I can’t say enough about how it’s not really me getting those goals, it’s my teammates and I just happen to be the one that’s getting them in,” she said. “If anything I’m just absolutely grateful for the players around me that are making it possible for that to even happen.”

The Irish will now turn their attention to Louisville, again out to avenge an early season loss. The Big East semifinal will kick off Friday at 3 p.m. in Morgantown, W.V.

Contact Kelsey Manning at kmannin3@nd.edu