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ND Women’s Soccer: Missed Opportunities

Jack Hefferon | Sunday, November 13, 2011

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The 45 mile per hour gusts of wind that blew from goal-to-goal proved to be the winds of change, as No. 16 Illinois made better use of its time playing downwind and ended Notre Dame’s campaign for a second straight national championship with a 1-0 victory over the Irish.

Things looked to be going Notre Dame’s (10-8-3, 6-3-2 Big East) way from as early as the coin toss, as they came out for the first half with a wind that created a wildly unbalanced field at their backs. The team was able to keep the ball almost exclusively in Illinois’ (17-4-2, 8-2-1 Big Ten) half of the field, and nearly jumped out to an early lead on a couple of occasions.

In the 30th minute, sophomore midfielder Mandy Laddish blasted a shot from 30 yards out that looked destined for the top right corner, but was deflected up into the crossbar by a lunging effort from Illini junior goalkeeper Steph Panozzo. Just five minutes later, senior midfielder Jessica Schuveiller curled in a free kick from distance that just missed the far post on the left side. And while the team may have just missed on a couple of opportunities, Irish coach Randy Waldrum wished his squad had gotten a few more chances with the wind on their side.

“When we had the wind at our back, I hoped we would have pressed more, and looked to get more scoring opportunities,” Waldrum said. “I didn’t think we took advantage of it when it was at our back. And I thought that was the difference.”

Held scoreless in the first half, the Irish were then tasked with keeping Illinois off the board in the second half. That strategy failed just five minutes after the break though, when Illini junior midfielder Niki Read found space and floated in a shot from 30 yards out that caught the wind and looped over Irish junior goalkeeper Maddie Fox into the back of the net.

“Obviously [Read] was unmarked through midfield,” Waldrum said. “I don’t know if we turned it over and just lost her or if someone failed in their marking assignment, but she smacked a great shot with the wind at her back, and that’s one of the things we talked about at halftime is that we can’t allow them time and space to shoot with the wind at their back.”

Down a goal, with the wind in their face and potentially 40 minutes away from the end of their season, the Irish cranked up their level of play to try and get an equalizer. Waldrum pulled out a defender and went into an aggressive 3-4-3 formation, which created some chances for the offense, but also forced Fox to make a number of diving saves to keep Notre Dame alive.

“We just needed the goal,” Waldrum said. “Once they scored so early, it didn’t matter if we lost 5-0, we needed to get the goal. That’s why we went to three backs, tried to push another player forward and hope we could create something. When we went to that we knew we were going to be exposed, and Maddie kept us in it. She did her part, the rest of us just didn’t do our part. She was outstanding today.”

In the end though, the Illini were able to hold on to the final buzzer, with the one breakthrough just enough to send them on to Oklahoma State for the Round of 32. For the Irish, it was another instance of coming so close and having periods of brilliance end in disappointment.

“It’s kind of been the tale of our season this year,” Waldrum said. “We’ve been very up-and-down and again it was a day like that. I don’t think we created enough offensively all day, to be honest, whether we had the wind or we didn’t. It’s sad to have to play an important game like this in the field conditions that it was, but it’s not an excuse for us losing because both teams had to play with it and against it. We just weren’t good enough on the day.”

With the season ending loss, the team now can both look back to one of the best four-year runs in school history, and begin to look forward to another very talented and experienced squad returning next year.

“You always hate to lose a senior class, and like I told them, I’m really proud of what they’ve accomplished,” Waldrum said. “I mean, they’ve had three final fours and a national championship and one of the most winning senior classes that we’ve had in a long time. It’s sad to see them go. I’m really proud of them, because they mean a lot. I’m very attached to them, especially the Texas kids who I’ve known since they were really young growing up.

“But I’m excited, you know. It’s a good young group of players coming back who were really, relatively young as a team this year. We’ll be back.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu