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ND Women’s Soccer: Alligator hunters

Ken Fowler | Friday, September 2, 2005

After dominating New Hampshire and Vermont on the road to start the season, the Irish return to Alumni Field tonight at 7:30 p.m. for the team’s home opener against the Florida Gators.

The game is the first of two for the Irish this weekend in the Inn at St. Mary’s Notre Dame Classic, as they are set to play Maryland Sunday.

“I think everybody is really excited to open at home,” Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum said. “There’s something special about getting out there [on Alumni Field].”

For the Irish, “something special” equates to losing only one regular-season home game in the past two years, a 3-2 loss to Michigan in November 2003.

Now, it’s Florida’s turn to try to snap Notre Dame’s 11-game regular-season home unbeaten streak. Including post-season play, the Irish haven’t lost in their past 15 home games.

But the Gators pose a significant challenge. The team posted a 16-4-2 record last year en route to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. This year, led by sophomore midfielder Jasmine Johnson and freshman forward Megan Kerns, the No. 15 Gators look like a legitimate title contender.

Waldrum said that Florida comes into the game with a history as rich as the Irish’s.

“They’ve got this tradition of being a really good athletic team,” he said.

Florida kicked its season off on the right foot Saturday with a 3-1 victory over Jackson State.

Johnson, a former Irish recruit, scored the team’s first goal of the season at 17:01 in the first half.

“Jasmine obviously is a very athletic kid,” Waldrum said. “That was a kid who was … on our radar screen in the recruiting process.”

Waldrum said the team also recruited Kerns last year. From that, he said the Irish “know they’ve [Florida] got a couple of really good weapons offensively.”

The Irish, though, have quite a few offensive weapons of their own.

Reigning national player of the week Kerri Hanks leads the team with 15 points (7G-1A) in her first two collegiate games, and preseason Big East player of the year Katie Thorlakson is second with eight (2G-4A). Freshman Brittany Bock, sophomore Amanda Cinalli and senior Maggie Manning are tied for third on the team with six points.

With five players who can start at forward on his team and only three forward spots, Waldrum says that the coaching staff is “really managing players now.”

That, he says, includes convincing every player on the team “that each player may have to give up some playing time for the benefit of the team in the long run – to keep us healthy.”

He says that, thus far, the team has responded very well to that idea.

“That’s been the really fun part of it,” he said. “They’re a great group to work with. … and we had a really good week of training.”

They will have to work well together not only on Friday, but also on Sunday at 1 p.m. against Maryland to keep the team’s home winning streak alive.

Last year, the Terrapins upset then-No. 3 UCLA in the Virginia Soccer Classic early in the season. This year, they will be looking to unseat Notre Dame in an early-season classic.

Waldrum says that the Terrapins will be ready to play the Irish, as they have been preparing for a very strong ACC conference schedule. However, he believes that the Irish will be focused on defeating the Terps, and that the team will not overlook Maryland as UCLA may have a year ago.

“I don’t they’ll overlook Maryland at all,” he said. “Last year in the NCAA tournament, [Maryland] knocked off Penn State, so we know what they’re capable of doing.”

Thus far, Waldrum says, the team is happy with the season and excited to open up the full schedule.

“I’m really happy with where we are now,” he said. “The mindset is good – I think we’ll come out with a good week[end].”