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ND Women’s Soccer: Two titles not enough

Tim Dougherty | Wednesday, August 30, 2006

When it comes to postseason hardware, Notre Dame women are gold diggers. Fifteen months after outlasting UCLA 1-1 in a shootout (4-3) to bring home the program’s second national championship in 2004, the Irish are mining as hard as ever for another piece of NCAA gold.

The first time around was quite a rush, so much so that 2006 senior captain and defender Kim Lorenzen says she still can’t transform her emotions into precise words, a feeling that the players around from the 24-1-1 2004 squad are having a hard time living without.

“The perception is once you get one national championship it’s probably good enough for everyone,” Lorenzen said. “To be honest, every season is new and all teams every year are different. Now this year we have to prove to everyone that it wasn’t just a one-time thing. Notre Dame is a top team that can do it more than once.”

Senior midfielder Jill Krivacek, then a sophomore, scored the final goal of Notre Dame’s 2004 season when her penalty kick eluded UCLA keeper Valerie Henderson, before an Erika Bohn save netted Notre Dame’s second title. The win made the Irish the first two-time champion besides North Carolina, which has won 18.

Portland equaled Notre Dame’s feat last year when the Pilots won their second title, toppling the Irish 4-1 in the NCAA quarterfinals along the way. The Irish said the loss refocused the team and reignited its ambitions.

“I think the fire is back,” Krivacek said. “I don’t want to say we were complacent last year but it really wasn’t the same. Winning the national championship and knowing what it feels like and what it really means makes the fire that much bigger.”

“After winning it in 2004 [last year] was a little different,” senior midfielder and Hermann Trophy nominee Jen Buczkowski said. “Now this year we have that taste of defeat from Portland with us still. I think now we’re a little more revved up and hungry to win it again.”

Krivacek, Buczkowski and Lorenzen are three members of the eight-player senior class, several of whom played critical roles in the 2004 title. To repeat their prior performance, the seniors feel they must expand their responsibilities and display the leadership embodied by 2004 senior defender and captains Melissa Tancredi and 2003 striker Amy Warner.

“We’ve had some great leaders,” Krivacek said. “[Tancredi and Warner] really left a legacy in the program in what they brought to the team and what they expected from their teammates. I think leaders on the team try to model themselves after them.”

In addition to the renewed hunger of the upperclassmen, the Irish will also rely on major contributions from those still working to chase down their first collegiate championship if they hope to return to the College Cup finals for the sixth time in the past 13 years and become only the second program ever to win three national titles.

The Irish are currently without sophomore standouts midfielder Brittany Bock and defender Carrie Dew who led the U.S. national team past Germany 4-1 in the quarterfinals of the World Under-20 Championships.

Five other freshmen and sophomores tallied 60 minutes or more in Notre Dame’s 3-1 win at Ole Miss Sunday afternoon that pushed Notre Dame’s record to 2-0, including highly touted freshman striker Michele Weissenhofer.

For Weissenhofer, the college decision came down to Notre Dame and UCLA. Though the Naperville, Ill. native said she ultimately choose the Irish over the Bruins for a variety of reasons not necessarily related to the soccer pitch, when she laces up her boots there is only one thing on her mind.

“The final goal obviously is winning the national championship like we did two years ago,” Weissenhofer said. “That’s what we’re playing for. Everything is gearing up for that – all the other games.”

That is exactly the mental attitude Irish coach Randy Waldrum was looking for when he offered Weissenhofer a scholarship.

“[During recruiting] we clearly outline our expectations and what we want to achieve,” Waldrum said. “We let [recruits] know they’re going to be on a team that is year in and year out strong enough to compete for a national title. There are a lot of players that don’t have that work ethic. We have that expectation and we live under that pressure.”

Different coaches practice different philosophies regarding national-title talk. According to his players, Waldrum keeps no secrets regarding his goal for the Irish, holding that grail in front of everyone and providing a context for everyone to continue working hard each day – whether she already owns a ring or not – as they progress through Waldrum’s three sections of the season – non-conference, Big East and the NCAA tournament.

“It’s a constant motivational thing,” Lorenzen said. “It’s always, ‘Take care of it now so we can get a good seed in the tournament.’ While we do have the tournament in the back of our minds, it’s got to be a one game at a time thing and [Waldrum] constantly stresses that.”

After the Irish earned their second victory in as many days with their win over the Running Rebels, Waldrum was encouraged by the ability of this season’s group, as the old and new continue to mesh.

“[This team] reminds me a lot of that ’04 team in the fact that … we have a good blend of young players who have that talent but just haven’t been through those wars yet,” Waldrum said. “Having the upperclassmen and the experience they’ve had in their two and three years here only helps the young players. When we get into a situation like we did this weekend where we’re in a hostile environment on the road and it’s hot, the experience level really carries the team through.”

Notre Dame will be tested this weekend when it welcomes a pair of Golden State teams to the Inn at St. Mary’s Classic at Alumni Field. The Irish face Southern California Friday at 7:30 p.m. followed by what is projected to be their toughest regular season opponent of the year – No. 9 Santa Clara Sunday at 1 p.m.