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Back to back

Ken Fowler | Friday, November 11, 2005

When Notre Dame won six straight NCAA Tournament games a year ago to claim the 2004 College Cup, Candace Chapman was a central part of the Irish attack.

With less than 18 minutes remaining in Notre Dame’s semifinal match against Santa Clara, Chapman scored the only goal of the game after executing a flawless give-and-go with Katie Thorlakson.

Both Thorlakson and Chapman are members of the Canadian national team, and both are in their final seasons at Notre Dame.

As the Irish begin their national title defense this weekend with a match against Valparaiso, Thorlakson is once again at forward, but the fifth-year senior Chapman will be back in her natural position with the Irish as a defender, leading a unit that has surrendered just 10 goals in 21 games.

Chapman, a team captain and vocal leader, said Notre Dame’s comfort level on defense has skyrocketed throughout the course of the 2005 campaign.

“I think communication and just getting comfortable with where everyone’s playing [is key to the defense],” Chapman said. “We moved it around a lot in the beginning [of the season] and now people pretty much know where to be.”

That comfort level has been most apparent in Notre Dame’s 10 games since a 4-1 upset at the hands of Marquette.

The defense has held Irish opponents to just one goal in a span of 906 minutes covering those 10 games, and opposing offenses have managed just 15 shots on goal.

Along with juniors Kim Lorenzen and Christie Shaner and freshman Carrie Dew, Chapman and the Irish defense have hounded opposing forwards all year and prevented teams from getting good looks at the goal.

Thorlakson said she and the rest of the Irish offensive players feel confident when they look back to see Chapman leading the defensive effort.

“For me personally, she plays on our Canadian team and I look up to her a lot,” Thorlakson said of Chapman. “She’s just like a rock back there. She puts a lot of confidence in the players … in front of her.”

That confidence has grown over the past few months as the defense has shut out nine of its last 10 opponents.

Irish head coach Randy Waldrum attributes much of the defense’s recent success to the reemergence of Chapman as a premier back in the college game.

“I think she’s kind of found her rhythm again as the outside back,” Waldrum said after Notre Dame’s 5-0 throttling of Connecticut Nov. 6 in the Big East Championship. “Playing her up front last year, it took her a while to get to the point where she’s flying up and down the line again … and she’s really been doing that a lot for us the last few weeks.”

Chapman said the transition was not too difficult for her because she played on the Irish defense in 2001 and 2002 before sitting out the 2003 season, recovering from ACL surgery.

“I played defense my first two years here. They only changed that [last year] when I went up front,” Chapman said.

In the conference championship game, Chapman led the Irish defense in the second half as Connecticut tried to mount an offensive attack to cut into the Notre Dame lead. Each time they thought they had an opening, however, the Huskies found Chapman racing over to redirect crosses or block shots from the wings.

After witnessing four years of such dominating performances, Waldrum said he expects to see Chapman’s name as a central part of the future of women’s soccer.

“I think she’ll be one of the future stars of the women’s game,” he said.

“Internationally she’s going to be one of the stars like we’re hearing about the Mia Hamms and those kinds. She’s just so composed and she’s just such a weapon coming out of the back.”

Though Waldrum said he was glad to have Chapman on the back line again, he thinks she can contribute to the offense as well as the defense.

“She’s just such a weapon coming out of the back defensively,” he said. “She can keep you from playing because she’s athletic and fast and she’s a good tackler of the ball, but she creates a lot for us offensively.”

Chapman’ statistics this year give credence to Waldrum’s assessment. She has two goals and nine assists out of the defense, by far the highest points total on the team from the back line.

Chapman said when she begins her final NCAA Tournament with the Irish tonight in hopes of leading the team to back-to-back titles, she will not look past Valparaiso, even though her expectations for the tournament are much greater than a first-round victory.

“Going in as defending national champions, you know how easy it is to get knocked out, so you take it one at a time,” she said. “[But] I think we should be confident going into the tournament. We have a great team.”