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Robison: Irish answer questions emphatically

Matthew Robison | Monday, October 29, 2012

Notre Dame entered the season with plenty of questions about its team. How would it handle the departure of several crucial graduated seniors? How would a roster so young compete in the Big East? Who would step up to fill leading roles?

Over the course of the regular season, the Irish have made a statement, answering all those questions.

As one of only two seniors on the roster, defender Jazmin Hall stepped up as the leader of the back line. Junior midfielders Mandy Laddish and Elizabeth Tucker anchored a solid midfield, and freshmen across the roster proved youth would not hinder production.

Freshman goaltender Elise Hight played in 12 games, started 11, only allowed six goals and made 40 saves. Freshman forward Crystal Thomas has played in all 19 games for the Irish and leads the team with eight goals.

Irish coach Randy Waldrum and his staff have turned what most teams would surrender to a “rebuilding year” into a chance at winning the Big East tournament and making another run in the NCAA tournament.

With a roster of only two seniors and twelve freshmen, plenty of teams would be satisfied with a mediocre year, focusing on the future instead of the present. But that’s just not Notre Dame soccer.

There is a culture of winning in Alumni Stadium. Notre Dame has earned a berth in the championship weekend of the conference tournament 16 of the last 18 years. It has won three national championships, the most recent coming in 2010.

That said, the Irish have certainly dealt with their share of adversity this season. They’ve taken the proverbial lumps along the way: a 1-0 defeat at Wisconsin to start the regular season, a three-game stretch in early September during which they went 0-2-1.

But every time it seemed as though a series of events would crush the young team, it found a way to bounce back. Following the opening loss to the Badgers, the Irish came back and won three straight. After the tough three-game stretch, Notre Dame rattled off seven straight Big East wins.

Most recently, the Irish tied Rutgers 2-2 in double overtime and fell 1-0 the next game to Georgetown. But then it won its last two regular season games and its opening game of the Big East tournament against Syracuse on Sunday in Alumni Stadium.

Much can be said about the youth of this year’s squad, its inexperience and lack of a strong corps of veterans. Certainly, the Irish don’t have an All-American like Melissa Henderson or Melissa Tancredi leading the charge.

But just as much can be said about the way Notre Dame turned what could have been a “down” year into a successful one thus far.

Some questions have yet to be answered: how will a young team perform under the pressure of the postseason? How far can talent take them?

These questions will linger over the course of the postseason.

But if their performance this season has been any indication, the Irish will emphatically answer.

Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu