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No. 1 Irish stick with formula for success

Matt Mooney | Friday, October 1, 2004

Having just passed the halfway point of the season, No. 1 ranked Notre Dame is not about to change a formula that brought about an undefeated 10-0-0 start.

“I don’t really know that there’s going to be much in terms of trying to change things,” coach Randy Waldrum said. “Our philosophy is still the same, to concentrate on solidifying things [on defense] and trying to create goal scoring chances.”

The Irish resume their conference schedule this weekend making a quick trip out to No. 20 West Virginia for tonight’s 7 p.m. game. Notre Dame will then turn around and head home for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against Providence at Alumni Field. The Irish defeated West Virginia last year by a 2-0 score and did not play Providence.

Defender Melissa Tancredi said the unusual scheduling of both a road and a home game in one weekend is a challenge for the players.

“[All the travel is] just an uncomfortable situation to put yourself in, but it’s stuff you’ve got to get over and just go out and play,” she said.

Waldrum has his own concerns about West Virginia and seedings for the Big East Tournament.

“The thing that we’ve got to recognize in the Big East, you really don’t want to lose to a West Virginia or a Villanova because even if they have a loss, they [still] have the head-to-head over you,” he said.

Defense has been the staple of this year’s Irish squad. Opposing teams have struggled to get a shot on goal against Notre Dame, much less a goal itself. In 10 games this season, the Irish have allowed only 24 shots on goal while yielding only seven actual goals. The team has only trailed in a game twice all season.

“All the problems we had last year are totally ironed out now,” Tancredi said. “We anticipate much better as a unit this year and we’re much more cohesive.”

Tancredi anchors the defensive unit, often providing veteran leadership for the younger defenders like sophomores Christie Shaner and Kate Lorenzen. This past week, Tancredi was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week for the third time this season.

During Sept. 24’s match against Pittsburgh, Tancredi showcased her offensive abilities in addition to her solid defense. Tancredi scored her second goal of the season to tie the game against the Panthers and then assisted on the last Irish goal to help put the game away.

“I don’t think there’s a better, more knowledgeable defender in the country,” Waldrum said about Tancredi. “I think this whole back four is going to be up there in that area with the best we’ve ever had here at our program.”

The Irish will see the return of starting defender Gundrun Gunnarsdottir after she missed last weekend’s games with an ankle sprain.

Notre Dame also received a further boost last week when leading scorer Katie Thorlakson announced her decision to stay on with the Irish for the entire season. Previously, Thorlakson had intended to leave the Irish for three weeks to play for the Canadian Under-19 National Team. Had she done so, Thorlakson would have missed any games Notre Dame played during the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

“I feel like we have something special here at Notre Dame,” she said, “and I wanted to be a part of that up until the end of the year.”

Thorlakson followed the lead of teammate Jen Buczkowski, who, over the spring, also decided to play for the Irish instead of the U.S. Under-19 National Team. For Waldrum, the two commitments are both a relief and a sign his program has reached a new level.

“The way Katie’s been playing and scoring goals, kind of leading the way for our young players up front, it’s a huge relief to have her decide to stay,” he said. “It just says loads about their commitment level to the program.”

But Waldrum also knows their presence doesn’t guarantee anything.

“The biggest part of that is to let these kids know what’s in front of them,” Waldrum said. “I don’t think there’s any room to slack off.”