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Women’s Soccer: Manning comes back to lead Irish

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Maggie Manning was ready to quit.

Even as the Irish were en route to their second national championship in 10 years, Manning was unhappy, unenthused and underperforming.

A cycle of limited playing time, low point totals and a lack of enjoyment of the game made Manning contemplate leaving the team.

“To be honest, I was really unhappy last year,” she said. “It carried over into my play very obviously.”

Irish head coach Randy Waldrum saw that and sat down with the forward from Lake Oswego, Ore., to convince her to stay with the team.

“She’s a great example of a student athlete,” Waldrum said. “She was very good for us her first two years, and we saw a ton of potential in her. And then her junior year, she got to the point last year where the game wasn’t really fun for her. She really struggled getting through the season.”

A year after nearly giving up on soccer, Manning is setting a new standard for Irish reserves and preparing to travel home Thanksgiving weekend for a clash with No. 2 Portland in the national quarterfinals.

In 22 games this season, she has more than doubled her career goal, assist and point totals. She has scored nine goals and added seven assists while starting only two games for the Irish. In 2004, she totaled just two goals and one assist in 13 games. Her career stats heading into the 2005 campaign were seven goals and five assists for 19 points.

Now a senior, Manning said it was the support of her coach and teammates that convinced her to stay on the team.

“Coach was so supportive, and he gave me so many chances and never really gave up on me,” Manning said. “But pretty much it was the team, the reason I stayed. The girls mean so much to me. I can’t imagine being at Notre Dame and not a part of the team.”

Like her statistics, Manning’s emotions could not be further from where they were a little more than a year ago.

She is excited for Notre Dame’s impending clash with Portland, especially because she will be returning home for a soccer match for the first time in her collegiate career.

Before Notre Dame’s victory over Yale Friday, Manning said she was hoping for a showdown in her home state.

“I’ve never played in Oregon,” she said. “I’ve been wanting to the past four years. It would just be great if we could do this in my last few games, and it would be Thanksgiving weekend, so [I could be home].”

The winner of Friday’s game advances to the College Cup in College Station, Texas at the campus of Texas A&M and likely becomes the odds-on favorite to take home the 2005 national championship.

Waldrum said Notre Dame’s success this year has been in large part thanks to the team’s depth, and Manning is an integral part of the Irish attack.

“She’s done a great job for us off the bench,” Waldrum said. “You don’t skip a beat [when she comes in]. To get into the NCAAs and win, you need players like [Manning] that are going to help you through it.”

For Manning, that is the ultimate compliment. She said her goal in games is to maintain the high level of play of the starting Irish forwards.

“I just don’t want the game to let down when I get onto the field, and I just make it my personal goal to keep up that level of play [of the starters],” Manning said.

She attributes her solid play all year to rededication and focus on the field and in practice. Manning has scored all nine of her goals off the bench – one of the highest totals in Division I for a second-line player. She has netted her 25 points in just 690 minutes of playing time this season, averaging 31 minutes of action a game.

“I know my playing time is limited, and I just want to make an impact at any level,” Manning said. “Whether it’s winning a random ball or scoring a goal, whatever I can do.”

For all her hard work, Manning has developed a devoted cheering section in the stands at Alumni Field. When the forward enters the game, her devotees make sure the rest of the crowd knows that No. 13 is in the game.

“Those are my very loyal friends,” she said. “They just love to support me. They’re my No. 1 fans and keep me going.”

Her fans’ enthusiasm correlates with her own, increasing dramatically this season from last. Even though the Irish captured the College Cup title last season in Cary, N.C., Manning wasn’t happy. In 2005, the story is different.

“Compared to last year, this is so much different,” Manning said. “I’m having so much more fun.”

As a senior, soon to play in her final game, Manning said she thinks her difficult season last year provides a deep perspective from which to look at her career.

“I think because I’ve had the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows, I can really appreciate everything,” she said.

Notre Dame takes on the Pilots Friday at 7 p.m. PST at Merlo Field in Portland, Ore.