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Tancredi invaluable to success of No. 2 Irish

Andy Troeger | Thursday, October 16, 2003

For most college athletes, playing in a foreign country, missing an entire season due to injury or changing positions would be a difficult challenge to overcome. Fewer yet would be able to conquer all three in time to become an All-American candidate.But that only begins to describe the importance of central back Melissa Tancredi to the women’s soccer team.Tancredi came to Notre Dame from Ancaster, Ontario after being on the Canadian under-19 National Team.”My parents definitely fell in love with it,” Tancredi said. “I didn’t want to leave Canada at first but my visit really changed my mind. I had no idea that the soccer team here was this good.”Tancredi’s soccer career did not get off to a good start as she missed her entire freshman season due to an ACL injury suffered during preseason.”It was very frustrating,” Tancredi said. “But it was good at the same time because I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Just watching the team and how they play was good for me.”She started to emerge as a forward in 2001, starting 10 games as a forward alongside classmates Amanda Guertin and Amy Warner.She was fifth on the team in scoring that season, finishing with four goals and four assists.Then as a junior, Tancredi was one of many Irish players affected by the rash of injuries suffered in the Irish defense. She was forced into the central defense early in the season against Hartford, and then became a fixture at central back later in the year before becoming a force at the position this season.”She’s been phenomenal,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “It’s been an ongoing process, but now she’s finally comfortable with the move and with reading the game from the different position. She picked it up so quickly and has become a leader in the defense.””I really didn’t want to change originally,” Tancredi said. “Then at first it was OK because I figured I was doing it for the team. Then I eventually really started liking it.”Having been a forward, I definitely think I have an edge because I can anticipate where the forwards are going to go from past experience.”Tancredi has led the defense through her physical style of play and her ability to win the ball in the air. She adds an added dimension by being able to attack from her defensive position.”She’s got so many dimensions,” Waldrum said. “She’s a great defender with the ability to come forward into the attack. The opposition has a real tough time dealing with that. “Opposing players fear her, and she has the ability to send a message with some of her tackles.”Along with her stellar play this season has come an increased leadership role for Tancredi.”Along with the way she’s played, she’s got those leadership qualities,” Waldrum said. “I think the other players have looked up to her ever since she got here, but she needed to have confidence in her own play before she could really become a leader.””She’s goofy, a blast to be around, and a great competitor, but until this year she didn’t understand how much people on the team look up to her,” Warner said. “This is the first year she’s really taken advantage of that because her teammates really see her as a leader.”The rest of the Big East has noticed Tancredi’s play as well, as she has been named Big East Defensive Player of the Week twice in a row. Over the team’s last seven games, Tancredi has scored two goals along with four assists, in addition to being the leader of a defense that has not allowed a goal in their last 584 minutes, including six consecutive shutouts.Her impact is not lost on her teammates, either.”If there’s a center back in the country I wouldn’t want to play against, it would be her,” Warner said. “We talk about being second in the country in goals against average and in goals scored and I think they go hand in hand. “Part of the reason we do so well offensively is because we have to play against defenders like Tancredi every day in practice.”The Irish, now 14-0-1, face a stiff test against No. 14 Connecticut on Friday night, but Tancredi and the Irish feel the change in attitude from last year will continue to propel them through the rest of their schedule.”It’s amazing how much confidence we have all the way from the freshmen to the seniors, in both ourselves and team,” Tancredi said. It’s a different quality of play and the effort and intensity given in practice shows on the field.”