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High expectations for the Irish

Andy Troeger | Friday, August 29, 2003

For a soccer program that has reached the Final Four almost every year for most of the 1990s, the last two years for the Irish have been fairly disappointing.

An early exit in the 2001 tournament, followed by last year’s injury-riddled campaign, has left this year’s squad hungry to return to the Final Four this season.

The No. 10 Irish start out the 2003 campaign this weekend competing in the University of Connecticut’s tournament in Storrs, Conn. Although they do not play the Huskies this weekend, the Irish do face two formidable opponents in Hartford and Wake Forest.

The two games present different challenges for the Irish. They have played Hartford the past two years, registering two wins. But the Irish have not played the Demon Deacons recently.

“Hartford is usually a top-25 team,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “They’re not ranked this preseason, but they have a lot of foreign players and are very organized defensively, so they’ll be tough to score on.

“It’s our first time playing Wake Forest, however, so we don’t know much about them. They’re usually in the top 25, as well, and the ACC is one of the top conferences, so they won’t be overwhelmed and are accustomed to playing top competition.”

The Irish will be able to rely on increased depth and leadership this season as they look to improve on last year’s campaign. By adding a recruiting class ranked in the top five to a team that lost only one senior, Waldrum believes this team has a great chance to get off to a successful start.

“We have a lot of freshmen that will play a lot early in the season,” Waldrum said. “Whether or not they start, they will make us much deeper than we were. Many of them are ready physically to come in and play.”

The Irish will lean heavily on the leadership of its seniors this season, as well.

“This group has been great,” Waldrum said. “Amy Warner, Kim Carpenter and Vanessa Pruzinsky have done a great job in stepping up the leadership on and off the field. Some of our other players, like Annie Schefter and Melissa Tancredi, have really become good leaders, too. I like where we are right now.”

After beginning the season in Connecticut, the Irish will return home to host the Notre Dame Classic next weekend at Alumni Field. The Irish host to Arizona State on Sept. 5 and Oklahoma on Sept. 7.