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Despite mishap, Gunnarsdottir and Irish ‘D’ stay strong

Dan Tapetillo | Monday, December 6, 2004

CARY, N.C. – UCLA’s Crystal James sent the ball up field toward the Irish goal. As Irish central defender Gudrun Gunnarsdottir looked to control the ball, she kicked it lightly in the direction of the Irish goal, where keeper Erika Bohn awaited. But the kick sailed wide of Bohn and right into the goal, giving UCLA the lead with 22 minutes remaining in the national championship game. At the time, Gunnarsdottir looked to be the goat for the potentially devastating national championship loss for the Irish. However, lost in it all was the outstanding play of the Irish defense not only this season, but on Sunday as well.During Sunday’s win, Notre Dame only allowed six shots on goal and none found the net.Kim Lorenzen, Melissa Tancredi and Christie Shaner may have received most of the attention this season, but without Gunnarsdottir, this defense would not have been as effective as it was.Her talent stems from her international experience of playing with the Icelandic National Team. Prior to joining the Irish four years ago, Gunnarsdottir had already competed against players such as Mia Hamm and developed a keen sense of the sport that is not always found from American players. “Soccer in America is a lot more physical,” Gunnarsdottir said. “In Europe it is more about making the plays. So I’ve been able to learn a lot on how to play both styles.”After training against world competition with Iceland, Gunnarsdottir wanted to challenge herself with the physical and more aggressive play of college soccer. When deciding upon which college to play for, Notre Dame was the clear choice.”I wanted to play harder games and go to a good school,” Gunnarsdottir said. “They organize very well here, they help you with school and you get better at your soccer. That is very important to me.”It was important as well for Irish coach Randy Waldrum to find a player with years of experience against high-level competition. “When [the coaching staff] saw her play with her national team, I liked her technical abilities. Her level was higher and much more athletic than most of her teammates, Waldrum said. “Here in the States, we are more athletic and she had a mixture of both. She had so many games under her belt and I thought that experience was going to really help us, especially at the time we were recruiting her.”Gunnarsdottir’s maturity level also set her apart from most college freshmen. “She had a maturity about her and that only comes from a kid willing to move thousands of miles away to live [in the United States] and play soccer,” Waldrum said. “She was ready.”Gunnarsdottir quickly made an impact for the Irish her freshman year as she made 17 appearances, including four starts at central defender.However, she suffered a string of injuries her sophomore and junior years that limited her playing time.Gunnarsdottir only competed in seven games her sophomore year after enduring a stress fracture and a season-ending ankle injury. She suffered a broken wrist her junior year. Despite these misfortunes, it’s been these injuries that have inspired her to compete to her full potential this season.”When you’re on the sideline, you want to play so bad,” Gunnarsdottir said. “So when you get the chance, you appreciate it more and it is a lot more fun, so you play much harder.”This season, Gunnarsdottir has been a true inspiration for the team – chosen as a co-captain for the 2004 season. Her teammates attribute the honor to her talent and dedication she has given to the program the last three seasons.”She is such a great defender and one I would not want to go against [as a forward],” senior co-captain Mary Boland said. “She has a tremendous work ethic and she is a person who doesn’t have to say a lot because her actions speaks so loudly. She is the perfect teammate.”What has also made this season special for Gunnarsdottir is her parents watching her play in the United States for the first time as she claimed the national title.”She has had such a great year as she finishes her year as a captain, I know they have to be extremely proud of her,” Waldrum said. “It couldn’t have happened to a better kid to be finishing her career out this way.”