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Seniors lead team to No. 2 ranking

Matt Mooney | Thursday, April 15, 2004

Like a well-oiled machine, the No. 2 Irish have dispatched each of their first 10 opponents with precision and efficiency. Using a combination of distributed offense and stalwart defense, the Irish are in the midst of a 14-game winning streak and their most successful season since the program’s inception in 1997.At the core of this success are eight veteran seniors, the cogs that drive the Irish machine. Headlined by captains Andrea Kinnik and Meredith Simon, the team possesses a rich vein of experienced talent. Defense/midfield Kassen Delano joins Simon as a four-year starter while Lauren Fischer and Kinnik have started since their sophomore seasons. Joining those four with regular playing time this year are Abby Owen, Kristen Gaudreau and Mia Novic. Bridget Higgins has been sidelined for much of this year with a torn ACL.With so many upperclassmen filling the roster, Simon knows that she, as a senior, has an obligation to set an example for her younger teammates even on bad days. “Even if I’m tired or sometimes you have those days you don’t feel like practicing, but you [have] to, you can never slack off,” she said.Now in their fourth and final year, the seniors realize their collegiate careers have not always been a relaxing pleasure cruise, especially after enduring a stormy junior year. Following a very successful 2002 campaign in which the Irish finished 13-5 and reached the NCAA quarterfinals, the team faltered in 2003. A disappointing 8-7 record and failure to qualify for the NCAA tournament threatened to leave the then-rising seniors disenfranchised entering their final season. But their response to that season was coach Tracy Coyne’s first indication that, in her seniors, she had a special group of born leaders. “At the start of the year, they all came in to see me and they individually gave me their reasons why they were going to be different as seniors and why the program was going to go back to where it had been in 2002,” Coyne said.Kinnik vowed not to sit idle and watch her team disintegrate into disappointment. Having tasted success earlier in her career, she was not about to let one year of disappointment get in her way. “Our team is very good this year getting through adversity,” she said. “By the underclassmen seeing that we keep pushing through it, we don’t stop, that keeps them going too.”Dealing with hardship has helped the Irish battle through the times when they are not at their best. The season opener against the California, a 12-11 overtime win, sticks out as particularly significant, especially to Kinnik.”That was a game we should have won very easily,” she said. “[We told ourselves] that you just need to move on. You need to get over the fact that it didn’t go exactly how you wanted it to go.”And move on they did, winning nine more games and landing in the second spot in the polls with a 10-0 record, both firsts in Notre Dame history. For Simon, the success is a direct result of the team’s unity of purpose and the way teammates have gelled. “It’s fun to be a leader for these people, people who just want to be led, who want what I want,” she said. “That’s what wins the championships. Everyone wants the same thing and we’re all happy going after it.”And it is Coyne’s dearest hope that if there is one thing the underclassmen take away from this year’s senior class, it will be their exemplary leadership. “I think the seniors of this class look back on [the first recruiting class] as the type of behavior they wanted to emulate,” she said. “I hope that these younger players look to this class and say ‘This is how I want to do it’ and have it become part of a tradition of the program.”