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ND faces Tar Heels in championship rematch

Fran Tolan | Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Notre Dame will head to Chapel Hill, N.C., to take on defending NCAA champion North Carolina in a rematch of last year’s national title game – this time, in the Round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament at noon Saturday.

The third-round match will end one of the team’s chances of a repeat Final Four appearance.

Despite being a No. 4 seed and underdog against top-seeded North Carolina, the Irish are eager for the match against a team they tied 2-2 in an August exhibition match.

“Our kids will be very excited to play next week,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “It’s a great place to play and they are a No. 1 seed. … It will be a difficult task trying to beat them on their field but our players will be fired up for the challenge.”

The Irish have outscored opponents 44-6 in their last 15 games.

But North Carolina might be the toughest test Notre Dame has encountered. With a 3-1 win over UNC-Greensboro this Sunday, the Tar Heels moved to 19-3-1 on the season. The squad has also advanced to the third round in all 26 NCAA Tournaments and won 18 of 20 ACC tournaments.

Last week, North Carolina sophomore defender Nikki Washington was named Soccer America’s national player of the week after scoring in all three of her team’s conference tournament wins. She also hit the back of the net in the victory over UNC-Greensboro this weekend.

The Irish (17-4-2), meanwhile, are deeper than the team that tied visiting North Carolina on Aug. 19 and out-shot the Tar Heels 14-7 in that game. In the preseason match, junior defender Carrie Dew and senior forward Susan Pinnick sat out with injuries.

“Both teams had some players missing back then and there have been some lineup changes,” Waldrum said.

The Irish know they have a challenge ahead of them, especially having to travel down the unfriendly tobacco road, but more than two-thirds of their lineup is made up of veterans of the team that made a run to the national title game last season.

And, after going undefeated in Big East regular season play, they feel they are good enough to beat anyone in the country.

“You have to beat good teams along the way to win the national championship, so we just take them as they come,” Waldrum said.

The Irish face the Tar Heels at 12 p.m. Saturday at North Carolina’s Fetzer Field.