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ND Women’s Soccer: ND charges into second round

Greg Hadley | Thursday, November 21, 2013

After a dominant 4-1 win over then-No. 25 Iowa at home on Nov. 15, No. 23 Notre Dame travels to Ann Arbor, Mich. this Friday to square off against an upset-minded Western Michigan in the second round of the NCAA championships.
The Irish (12-7-1, 7-5-1 ACC) exploded offensively against the Hawkeyes, reaching their highest output since a 5-0 victory over Maryland on Sept. 26. Irish coach Randy Waldrum credits the deluge to the week’s worth of training the Irish had to prepare for the Hawkeye defense. The squad has had another week off since the first round, which gives Waldrum confidence heading into Friday.
“Our training [this week] has been as great as it was before Iowa,” Waldrum said. “[Wednesday’s] practice in particular was phenomenal. It reminds me a lot of the 2010 [NCAA] championship team. We seem to hit our stride once the tournament starts. Our practices have been so consistently good and we feel really confident heading into this game.”
The Broncos (11-5-5, 10-2-2 MAC) are also coming off an impressive first round. Playing on the road, they took down second-seeded Marquette 1-0, making Marquette the highest seed to be eliminated in the first round. Waldrum said his squad cannot afford to focus too much on any individual player on the Broncos.
“They’re more of a collective team,” Waldrum said. “In the past month we’ve played some teams with some really talented star players. From what we’ve seen, Western Michigan has had their success based on their organization. They work together and press the ball very well. We have to be very good in our ball movement and our speed of play. If we come out too slow or too casual, they really come after you with pressure.”
The Western Michigan defense allows just .859 goals per game, which will challenge an Irish offense that has struggled in the latter half of the season, averaging only 1.22 goals per game since September. Waldrum said the team spent most of their week off preparing for this challenge.
“We’ve just tried to continue to get better and work on the attacking third,” Waldrum said. “We’ve really struggled all season in that area. In the Iowa game we were quite good at creating attacking opportunities for ourselves, so we’re trying to build on that and work on our set pieces. The deeper we get in the tournament the more important free kicks and corner kicks will become as the defenses get better. Even though we scored four against Iowa, I think we can still get more out of our forwards.”
In particular, Waldrum said he wants his team to avoid digging an early hole for themselves. Against Iowa, the Irish fell behind 1-0 in the first five minutes off a free kick.
“Western Michigan is a team like Iowa,” Waldrum said. “They bring pressure in the first 20 minutes. If you give up an early goal, it’s hard to play down. We need to come out with speed early on in the game.”
Waldrum said his team is not taking Western Michigan for granted, but they have are aware of a looming matchup with No. 3 seeded Michigan should they win. Michigan (16-3-1, 9-1-1 Big Ten) plays Illinois State immediately following Notre Dame’s match.
“It’s the first time in a few years that we’ve been to Michigan,” Waldrum said. “They’ve built a new facility, so no players of ours have ever played here before. Friday’s game is at a neutral site so that shouldn’t be a problem, but if we’re lucky enough to get to Sunday, depending on who advances, we could be dealing with a home-field advantage for them. Mostly though, we’re taking the approach that Friday is another game and another job.”
The Irish take on Western Michigan on Friday at 4 p.m. in Ann Arbor, Mich. in the second round of the NCAA championships. Should they win, they will advance to play the winner of the Michigan-Illinois State game on Sunday.
Contact Greg Hadley at ghadley@nd.edu