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Semifinal match filled with Domers

By Matthew Robison | Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Canada and the United States squared off in their Olympic semifinal in Manchester, England, but the Aug. 6 game actually had a hint of Irish influence.
The Fighting Irish, that is.

Two members of the Canadian Olympic team and one member of the American team took part in the epic 4-3 American victory that would go down as one of the greatest Olympic soccer matchups of all time. Defenders Melissa Tancredi and Candace Chapman represented Notre Dame for the Canadian side, and American midfielder Shannon Boxx played for the Americans. Though Boxx missed the semifinal match due to injury, she started in midfield for the gold medal-winning Americans in all other matches.

Irish coach Randy Waldrum watched the game from the United States with pride. He saw two of his former players in Tancredi and Chapman represent their home country at the highest possible level. He saw a great display of the growing appeal of women’s soccer, and he saw Notre Dame represented on the world’s stage.

“I was really, really proud of both teams and all three of the players,” Waldrum said. “I thought it was great for them individually, I thought it was great for women’s soccer and I thought it was great for Notre Dame to have that kind of representation.”

For Waldrum, it was an added bonus that the game was one of the greatest women’s soccer games in Olympic history. Three times Canada led the United States, pulling ahead each time with a goal by forward Christine Sinclair. Sinclair used goals in the 22nd, 67th and 77th minutes to notch a hat trick. Three times the Americans answered – with goals from midfielder Megan Rapinoe in the 54th and 70th minutes, forward Abby Wambach in the 80th minute and a last-minute stunner by forward Alex Morgan in the 120th minute, deep into extra time.

“It was a great game,” Waldrum said. “It was a really good advertisement for the women’s game, in particular to have both those teams medal. With the gold going to the U.S. and the bronze going to Canada, it says an awful lot about our input into those kids’ development.”

Even with players representing the Irish on both sides, Waldrum said he did not feel torn. Rather, he said he was glad to know, one way or another, a former Notre Dame player would have a shot at a gold medal.

“There wasn’t going to be any way we were going to lose,” Waldrum said. “We had players on both teams. It was going to be a win-win regardless. It really makes you proud to see them do as well as they’ve done.”

The U.S. went on to beat Japan 2-1 in the gold-medal match, and Canada claimed bronze by defeating France 1-0.
Tancredi, a 2004 graduate of Notre Dame, was a tri-captain in her senior year, a 2003 first-team All-Big East selection and the 2003 Big East Defender of the Year. Tancredi has appeared in 88 international matchups and has started 72 games, scoring 22 goals. The Hamilton, Ont., native also represented Canada in the 2008 Summer Games.

“Melissa Tancredi did some great things for Canada, with four goals and two assists [in the tournament],” Waldrum said. “She really kind of had her break-out international moment.”

Chapman played for the Irish from 2001-2004, winning the 2002 Big East Defender of the Year award, being named first-team All-Big East in 2001 and 2002 as a defender and first-team All-Big East as a forward in 2004.

Although Chapman did not play in the semifinal against the U.S., she has represented Canada twice in the Olympic Games, dating back to Beijing in 2008. The Ajax, Ont., native has appeared in 114 international games and started 103, scoring six goals.

“Candace Chapman, even though she was injured in that game, she’s the second most capped player in Canada in terms of international appearances,” Waldrum said. “So she’s really made a name for herself in Canada above and beyond just this past Olympics.”

On the American side, Boxx represented the United States for the third straight Olympic Games, winning gold all three times. She is only the fourth Notre Dame athlete to participate in the Games three times.

The Torrance, Calif., native graduated from Notre Dame in 1999 after a dazzling collegiate career. She took the Irish to the College Cup three times and won a national championship in 1995. She scored 39 goals and recorded 57 assists during her time with the Irish.

As an international player, Waldrum said Boxx has been a mainstay for the U.S. for a number of years. In 2005, Boxx placed third in voting for the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award.

After three National Championships in 1995, 2004 and 2010, the performance of the trio in Olympic competition provided further evidence for Notre Dame’s significant presence in the women’s soccer community.

“What it does is it helps the rest of the soccer community to realize the kind of standard – the level – that our kids are competing at and training at every day,” Waldrum said. “I think it’s a testament not only to our coaches here and our program, but everything it involves. We have the best of everything – our nutritionist, our athletics facilities. We have a great sports psychologist, our strength and conditioning coach. Each and every one of those people played a role in those kids’ development.

“I think it’s just kind of a testament not only to women’s soccer here, but [also] the entire University and what we provide for our student athletes across the board,” he said.

The achievements of past Irish players point not only to the program’s history, but also to where it could be in the future, Waldrum said.

“I think it shows, from a recruiting standpoint for those looking to come to Notre Dame, the kind of support [players are] going to get,” Waldrum said. “Most importantly, they’re going to get a great education. But you add to it all the things we can do for them as a student-athlete. There are just not many schools that can do those things. It’s a huge boost to all of us involved in it.”

Even beyond the Olympics, current and former Irish players represent Notre Dame at a variety of levels.

“We’ve had so many kids who have gone on to represent either women’s pro teams in the two different pro leagues that have been in existence or have gone onto play for international teams,” Waldrum said.

“We’ve got two [players] right now with [junior midfielder] Mandy Laddish and [freshman midfielder] Cari Roccaro … who are off in Japan right now playing for the U.S. in the Under-20 Youth World Cup,” Waldrum said. “Anytime you have those things happen, you’re like a parent. You’re just really proud because they’re your kids.”

Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu