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Kicking Things Off

Dan Tapetillo | Friday, August 27, 2004

The No. 3 Irish are led by a fifth-year All-American, a coach with one of the best career winning percentages in the NCAA and explosive new talent craving a national title.

They are the envy of soccer programs around the nation.

“Our kids realize that being Notre Dame makes you a target on the field especially because of the success that we have had with this program,” coach Randy Waldrum said.

“We are that big game on everybody’s schedule.”

Ironically, the first challenge of the season will come from national rival Baylor, a program formerly led by Notre Dame’s own Waldrum.

Baylor enters the season with a 2-0 record in exhibition play, and its preseason efforts have made them serious contenders in the Big 12. Needless to say, Baylor’s team has all the incentive it needs for a win tonight.

“They are going to have a lot of motivation to win because I used to coach there,” Waldrum said. “But we are more concerned with what we are trying to prepare with what we want to.”

Notre Dame is not rattled, however Waldrum says his players are hoping to get off to a relaxed start, focusing on their season goals. Among the feats on the Irish wish list is a Big East Tournament Championship.

In order to attain this goal, Waldrum knows the team desperately needs to focus on the present. Concentrating on one game at a time makes a Big East Championship seem all the more doable. First up is Baylor.

“It has been two years since we have won the Big East and we want to reclaim that title,” Waldrum said. “But we cannot afford to look past Baylor considering it is the season opener.”

Although the team is highly ranked in preseason polls, Waldrum does not want these great expectations to influence the way the team performs throughout the season.

“We have been at this long enough, and it is nice to have the recognition this early.” Waldrum said. “But we understand that the team that wins the national title is the team that gets it done at the end of the day.”

Waldrum looks to the seasoned veterans to get the job done. By adding several new players, the Irish have added depth to the team and hope to best their 2003 record of 20-3-1.

Among those veterans is fifth-year All-American defender Melissa Tancredi and defender Candace Chapman.

Tancredi and Chapman recently received honors of being named to the Soccer Buzz preseason All-American squad, and are among the 25 players named to the preseason watch list for the Hermann Trophy national player-of-the-year award.

This marks the first time since 1997 the Irish will be returning two All-American defenders.

In addition to these players, there are several new freshmen who contributed to the team during preseason play in Brazil. Jannica Tjeder, Ashley Jones, Lauren Karas and Amanda Cinalli add a newfound energy to the Irish roster.

The key to success this season will be in adjusting team dynamics Waldrum said.

“Integrating the new players will contribute to the team’s rhythm and will help us against the tremendously difficult schedule that we have,” Waldrum said. “It must be made quickly.”

The Irish have been working to put those words into action at practice, quickly trying to find a balance in the midst of a fast paced and often hectic season.

The game against Baylor offers the team an opportunity to find that balance.

“We tend to play so much better uninhibited,” Waldrum said. “This is when our kids show what they have to offer.”